The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an important vaccine against Ebola, five years after an epidemic in West Africa killed 11,310 people and after more than 2,200 have died of it in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the last 18 months.
Alex Azar, who heads the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, quickly congratulated his department’s funding and “American global health leadership” for the vaccine, which is called Ervebo. As recently detailed in STAT, the reality is quite different: Canadian public institutions and funding outside the United States were primarily responsible for the vaccine. Without the work of one Canadian government laboratory in particular, more lives would surely have been lost.
A search that we performed across thousands of documents obtained through a freedom of information request revealed that a small group of scientists working at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with limited support from U.S. researchers funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, not only discovered the vaccine in 2001, but proved it safe and highly effective in animals in 2005. These Canadian scientists developed clinical-grade vaccine suitable for clinical trials, sought and obtained Canadian government funding for this research, and did all the development work.
Meanwhile, the private sector promised much and delivered little. In 2007, a small Iowa company called BioProtection Systems Corporation approached the Canadian lab to obtain rights to the vaccine in return for helping manufacture larger quantities of high-quality vaccine, conducting expensive clinical experiments, and obtaining regulatory approval.
Our analysis, published Thursday in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, of more than 1,600 pages of Canadian government records, however, reveals that the company did little more than participate in teleconferences and meet with officials at the U.S. FDA to gain insight into the agency’s expectations regarding the vaccine.
Many scientists at the Canadian lab, facing funding and other constraints, sought greener pastures and left the lab. By late 2010, the lab contemplated halting work on the vaccine. If not for the efforts of a single scientist, Judie Alimonti — working on a nonpermanent contract — who set up a skunk works operation at the lab, it is doubtful that a clinical-grade vaccine suitable for clinical trials would have been produced.
In the end, it was a combination of funding by the Canadian government, work by Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, and persistence by Alimonti that made it possible for Canada to contribute clinical-grade vaccine during and following the Ebola epidemic in West Africa from 2014 to 2016.
In collaboration with the World Health Organization, Guinea’s Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders, and other nongovernmental organizations on the ground in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, public-sector science also designed, paid for, and carried out the clinical trials that ensured last month’s approval of Ervebo.
Far from American leadership, this was a collective effort to improve global health.
Azar’s false claim of credit matches another reality, however: It was BioProtection Systems that garnered the financial benefit from these public investments when it sold the patent rights to Merck for $50 million in 2014 at the height of the West African epidemic, and it is Merck that is now being credited for bringing the vaccine to market.
The real issue is neither the money that BioProtection Systems made nor the credit given to Merck. Rather, it is the general assumption that only the private sector can advance drug and vaccine development.
There is little market interest in diseases like Ebola that disproportionately affect the world’s poor. Still, we turn to the private sector to commercialize a vaccine on the strength of the assumption that it is better positioned to bring such therapies to market even when most small-to medium-sized biotech companies, including BioProtection Systems, have never done so and likely never will. For four years before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, BioProtection Systems failed to deliver a single written report of its progress. And we found no evidence it ever conducted even a single scientific experiment with the vaccine.
The story of Ervebo offers several lessons. It illustrates that health research is international and that the United States does not always lead. It shows how even precarious public-sector science can do so much more than pure discovery research. It reveals how tired our approach to medical innovation has become. And it underscores growing concerns that important interventions like lifesaving vaccines may be neglected, delayed in development, or priced beyond reach unless and until we entertain alternative ways of bringing innovations to market.
Matthew Herder is director of the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Janice E. Graham is a university research professor of medicine at Dalhousie University. Richard Gold is a professor of medicine and law at McGill University in Montreal.
KFL&A reports 34 new COVID-19 cases, 304 active – Globalnews.ca
The Kingston region is once again over the 300 active cases mark, as Wednesday’s 34 new cases bring the daily active case count to 304.
Of the new cases, 10 are in the five-to-11 age group.
Nineteen people remain in hospital, with 11 of those cases are in the intensive care unit. Six people are on ventilators.
The cases per 100,000 over the past week is up slightly to 104.7, from 102.8 Tuesday.
The rise in cases locally has also forced the postponing of at least one local event. The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes was scheduled to have its grand opening on Dec. 5 from 2 to 4 p.m.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to have significant impacts throughout our communities, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston is committed to supporting the community through this time of heightened risk and uncertainty,” the Marine Museum said in a statement Wednesday.
“We consider the safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors paramount.”
As Covid-19 cases rise in the Kingston region the community reacts
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Roussin takes aim at HIV stigma – Brandon Sun
Wednesday was World AIDS Day and the province is getting behind the message to end the stigma of the disease.
There were 117 new cases of HIV identified in the province in 2020, slightly fewer than in 2019.
“Even though there are fewer cases, there was also significantly less testing,” Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday.
“Around 25 per cent of people with HIV are unaware they have it, and that can contribute to the spread.”
The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS continues to be a significant public health issue in the province. Roussin said the populations most at risk are also facing problems of accessibility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roussin urged people who may be at risk to get regular testing and speak to their health-care providers regarding prevention, testing and treatment options.
All these services are confidential and free of charge.
Those living with HIV are also encouraged to stay connected to care and treatments.
Roussin said it is considered a chronic infection and there are effective treatments for HIV, with many being able to get the virus level down to undetectable levels and minimizing risk of transmitting it to other people.
» The Brandon Sun
COVID-19 vaccines: 18% of Ottawa kids 5-11 have 1st doses – Globalnews.ca
Nearly 14,000 Ottawa kids have gotten their first COVID-19 vaccine shots in their first week of eligibility, according to the local health unit.
Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reports that 13,887 kids aged five to 11, representing 18 per cent of the total age group in the city, have their initial shots as of Wednesday morning.
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, said earlier this week that 40 per cent of local kids in this youngest eligible demographic have appointments booked through the provincial vaccination system. This doesn’t account for shots booked at pharmacies or doctors’ offices.
City-wide, 86 per cent of the population aged five and older now have at least one dose.
Meanwhile, OPH reported 50 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, surpassing the 32,000-case mark since the start of the pandemic.
The number of active infections held relatively steady at 329 in the latest report.
There are now 11 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Ottawa, two of whom are in the intensive care unit.
COVID-19: Proof of vaccine now needed to fly in Canada
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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