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This article was published 19/7/2010 (3539 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A new use will be announced today for the $88 million that was once earmarked for an HIV vaccine-manufacturing plant in Winnipeg.
The money will instead go toward co-ordinating HIV vaccine research. The intent is to corral researchers, private industry, social scientists and international organizations during different parts of vaccine development to merge their expertise and projects together with a common goal.
The Research and Development Alliance will become the new cornerstone of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, which is a $139-million joint venture between Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will announce today.
She will unveil the new CHVI in conjunction with the 17th International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.
Countries are struggling to co-ordinate the elements of vaccine research and development from basic lab sciences to the regulatory approvals needed in different countries to kick-start clinical trials or license vaccines for use.
"Canada will be the leader in developing that network," Aglukkaq said.
The new CHVI also includes hiving off $30 million from vaccine-related research and directing it towards the issue of transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her baby, mainly in Africa.
Although there will be a small office set up to provide a storefront for the Alliance project, Winnipeg's hope to benefit economically from the $88-million investment in a pilot scale manufacturing plant of HIV vaccines has gone up in smoke.
The International Centre for Infectious Diseases in downtown Winnipeg was the front-runner for that plant, an $88-million initial investment that could have generated more than 70 high-paying scientific jobs and more than $20 million annually in economic investment.
The plant, to produce small amounts of prospective HIV vaccines for use in clinical trials, was the original centrepiece of CHVI.
CHVI was first announced in February 2007 but to date less than $10 million has been spent.
The money will remain on the table until 2017.
The vaccine plant idea was shelved three years after the launch when the Gates Foundation produced a study suggesting it was no longer necessary.
Numerous AIDS and HIV researchers said that study was flawed and didn't account for the inability of academic researchers to get their vaccines produced in plants run by private firms.
The new CHVI will redirect the $88 million from the vaccine plant to the Research Alliance. The first step will be to set up an advisory board to govern the alliance, followed by a bid process to create the Alliance Co-ordinating Office. After that, the board will begin soliciting projects for funding.
Public Health Agency of Canada assistant deputy minister Dr. Rainer Engelhardt stressed the $88 million will mainly fund research.
That could be a positive outcome, says internationally renowned AIDS research Dr. Rafik Sekaly, who was part of the initial plans developing CHVI.
But Sekaly, now scientific director at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute in Florida, said it is still disappointing that nearly four years after CHVI was announced, there is nothing to show for it.
"I started the whole thing in 2003 and we still have not invested a singled penny," he said. "That's a shame. It's a missed opportunity."
Sekaly also said funding for mother-to-baby transmission is an important aspect but he said it is moving money away from vaccines.
He said vaccines are the most important and cost-effective public health tool in the world.
"Why are we shifting money away from this?" he said.
Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin said the reborn CHVI sounds to him like a vague and overly bureaucratic "dog's breakfast" that has no clear mandate or goal.