January 14, 2011
Institutions bidding to host an HIV vaccine production facility in Canada were in the dark for more than six months about the government's decision to end the program, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The newspaper based its report on documents obtained through an Access to Information request.
Announced in 2007, the $88 million (US $88.9 million) venture would have been backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bidding began in the spring of 2008, and four institutions were ultimately short-listed: Winnipeg's International Center for Infectious Diseases; the International Consortium on Antivirals at Trent University; Laval University; and the University of Western Ontario.
In 2009, the Public Health Agency of Canada still supported the joint project, according to internal briefing notes and memos to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones, the agency's head. In a June 2009 conference call with Gates officials, Butler-Jones acknowledged financial sustainability concerns, but he also noted benefits including technology, infrastructure, and human resource support for HIV vaccine development.
Two weeks after that call, the Gates Foundation presented a study suggesting adequate vaccine production capacity existed in the private sector. Critics said it ignored qualitative factors and the difficulty of academic research programs accessing trial facilities.
"Given this evidence ... it was agreed the government of Canada take the position of not moving forward with the facility project," a July 30 briefing note for Butler-Jones said. The goal was to develop a communications plan to that end by August. Nonetheless, none of the applicants knew of the decision until late January 2010, when the information was accidentally posted on the agency's website.