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This article was published 12/4/2010 (3936 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis hopes a parade of expert witnesses on HIV research at the health committee this week might convince the Tories to reignite plans to build an HIV vaccine manufacturing facility.
The committee begins two days of hearings this morning with HIV scientists and Public Health Agency of Canada officials scheduled to appear. Representatives from three of the four finalists who bid for the facility and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will appear Thursday.
"We want to build the case the bids were cancelled because of political interference," Wasylycia-Leis said. "We want to find a way to get the government to put it back on the table."
The vaccine facility was to produce small lots of research vaccines for use in clinical trials. It was to have been the centrepiece of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative but was suddenly cancelled in February. The International Centre for Infectious Diseases in Winnipeg was judged by an independent scientific peer review committee to be the best of the four bids. But Public Health Agency head Dr. David Butler-Jones said none of the four bids met all the criteria for the project. He also cited a study from the Gates Foundation suggesting such a manufacturing plant was no longer needed.
Liberal public health critic Kirsty Duncan says the government hasn't been up front. "I'm hoping to get more than just government talking points," Duncan said. "I want details."
She said the government has sent the message Canadian researchers were not up to the task -- but will not explain its decision. She also said the government is relying on a study other scientists have contradicted, including one who was part of the initial peer review process. Don Gerson will appear at the committee today.
Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North) is also intent on finding out whether political meddling occurred after former ICID chief executive officer Terry Duguid announced his candidacy for the federal Liberals in Winnipeg South.
The opposition wanted to have regional minister Vic Toews, Butler-Jones and PHAC scientific director Frank Plummer called as witnesses -- but none is appearing before the committee.
Butler-Jones has repeatedly denied there was anything untoward in the decision to kill the project.