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The public science behind the 'Merck' Ebola vaccine – STAT



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.

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Coronavirus: STARS adjusts but course stays same in Saskatchewan – Global News



Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) has made adjustments as it continues to fly critically ill and injured patients in Saskatchewan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The air ambulance service’s director of provincial operations, Cindy Seidl, says they have flown COVID-19-positive individuals.

Read more:
Saskatoon paramedics asking all patients to wear surgical masks

“I don’t have the exact number in front of me of COVID-positive patients, but we certainly have transported patients that are COVID positive,” she said.

“STARS does scene calls, which is an extension of 911, so they could be a scene call but more often with those type of patients … they’re (in) rural hospital with symptoms and they kind of deteriorate and need to be transplanted into tertiary care in either Saskatoon or Regina.”

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Seidl, who is also a flight nurse, said the virus has changed the way STARS flight crews provide emergency medical transportation.

“One of the things that has changed for us with the pandemic is our use of PPE (personal protective equipment). So pretty much every mission requires a gown, gloves, mask and shield in order to protect ourselves and the patient,” she said.

In the event that a patient is unconscious, Seidl said the answer is always the same.

“Patients that are unconscious and we can’t actually screen them, they would screen (COVID-19) positive. So a patient that is unconscious and we can’t ask them the proper question to see if they’ve had any symptoms, we would consider them to be positive,” Seidl explained.

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“So we would (then use) … personal protective equipment and then if they were on a ventilator, that’s a closed circuit. We would be fine. And if not, we would put a mask on them as well.”

Read more:
Saskatchewan police conducting coronavirus self-isolation check-ins

Seidl said STARS typically flies an average of about 850 missions annually in the province, has roughly 75 employees and staffs two helicopters 24/7 with a backup aircraft ready.

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“STARS first launched in Saskatchewan April 30, 2012, out of our Regina base and then the Saskatoon base started up Oct. 15, 2012,” Seidl said.

“We’re so fortunate to be here and to be part of the health-care system here in Saskatchewan. So many of our residents live (rurally) and now they have access to timely critical care transport right at the scene of their accident or emergency.”

“STARS is just one link in the chain of survival but as the system and local resources become more taxed and some of these patients that we are transporting are quite critically ill, it certainly, we are able to provide support to that community, to the patients and to those families and transport them into tertiary care in a timely and safe fashion.”

Read more:
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Seidl added that COVID-19 has presents a financial challenge for the non-profit organization.

“Fifty per cent of our operating budget is supplied by the provincial government and we’re very grateful for that. And the other 50 per cent we need to do through fundraising activities,” she said.

“Many of these have been cancelled due to the restrictions put on by COVID. So certainly we’re looking for new and innovative ways to raise funds.

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“We’ve got our outdoor concert coming up on Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Turvey Centre in Regina. So basically, people will come, they’ll park in their cars and they’ll watch the concerts… so that’s kind of a new and fun way event that we’ve launched here in the province.”

STARS also operates from bases in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Winnipeg.

Singing Moose Jaw paramedic has message on mental health

Singing Moose Jaw paramedic has message on mental health

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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JOHN DeMONT: COVID raising Nova Scotia's stock among remote workers –



The evidence is anecdotal, but increasingly, I’m hearing of people who have seen the light.

Who realize that, now that they no longer must shuffle, muffin-and-latte-in-hand, into a soulless office tower in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, New York or Boston, the world has changed.

Who say to themselves: “If I am working on a laptop at the kitchen table, why the heck not do it in a livable city where, even during the pandemic lockdown, there is room to roam?”

Who wake one day and, still lying in bed, shout that it is time to finally act on that long-harboured dream of making artisanal cheese and raising kids who do not start every sentence with “I need,” in a little house by the sea.

Who, having had their fill of big city life, say: “Why not head home now, where I always expected to end up anyway?”

So, I hear of friends of my children working big city jobs while safely back in Nova Scotia, and I learn that a niece and her partner, both still working for a Toronto bank, have taken up residence in a home once owned by their grandmother.

I run into strangers — on the beach, and the road outside of Halifax — whose family goes back a couple of generations in the area, who have persuaded their doubtful Upper Canadian partner to give Nova Scotia a try.

I hear of Canadian executives and New England professors who deal with clients, subordinates, and students thousands of kilometres away while, I suspect, sitting with an unobstructed view of Atlantic waters.

I could, honestly, go on and on with the examples, but what would be the point.

Anyone familiar with this space knows that I’m all in on this province, that I find its mix of geography and humanity so compelling that I need no other place. I know that I’m not alone in this regard.

The reason more people who feel the same way don’t live in Nova Scotia has always been that there aren’t enough jobs here.

Now, because so many people are working virtually — and, from the looks of it, will continue to do so for some time to come — that barrier, for some, seems finally gone.

They can actually live here, the COVID-19-free New Zealand of North America, and make their daily bread elsewhere, which is what the internet age was supposed to mean for this province.

The truth is that even before the pandemic hit, people from elsewhere in Canada were coming to Nova Scotia, adding to a population already at its historic peak.

According to Statistics Canada, during the 12 months running until the end of March 2020, 19,528 people migrated here from elsewhere in Canada, while 6,428 left.

The collapse of the western oil patch, undoubtedly, has a lot to do with that, but numbers are numbers: Halifax gained nearly 10,000 people in 2019. According to the Greater Halifax Partnership, 83 per cent of those newcomers were from outside of Nova Scotia.

That new and returning money, along with the lack of housing inventory for sale, has something to do with Halifax’s soaring house prices, which, when I clicked onto the Nova Scotia Realtors Association, had hit an average price-tag of $372,982 in August, 18.2 per cent higher than a year earlier.

To be honest, I thought the climb might have been even steeper given some of the stories I’ve been hearing: homes on the market for a day going for more than $100,000 over the asking price; a place not far from where I used to drink back-alley brewskies before the dances at QEH, listed for a figure approaching $2 million.

Those numbers are good for homeowners looking to cash out of the housing market, but bad for younger folks dreaming of a house just like their parents and grandparents had.

There are also those who fear what a wave of newcomers would do to the distinctive warp and woof of Nova Scotia. I have been to Maine, so I worry, too.

Yet let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Game-changing moments are rare for any place. I do not know if, amid a global pandemic, we have found ours.

I do, though, suspect that our narrative — “a great place to live but an enviable lifestyle doesn’t put bread on the table” — has finally changed, or at least started to.

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#ICYMI: Crime falls, Thanksgiving turkey, other news – Montreal Gazette



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Catch up on today’s news that you might have missed.

Montreal’s homicide rate dipped in 2019, but more violent crimes reported

The Montreal police filed its annual report with statistics indicating the violent crime rate in the city increased 15 per cent last year, but much of the increase can be attributed to a change in how some crimes are recorded. Inspector Sébastien de Montigny, head of communications for the Montreal police, conceded that some numbers leap out of the 2019 annual report — which was filed very late to city hall this year because of the pandemic — but he also explained some of the increases reported in violent crime can be attributed to paperwork. Read more.

As few as 247 travellers brought coronavirus to Quebec: study

The coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 70,000 people in Quebec was brought into the province by as few as 247 travellers, mostly via Europe and the Americas. The first case is believed to have entered Quebec City as early as Jan. 30 from someone travelling from the United Kingdom. But it was spring break travellers who initiated the major outbreak, new research suggests. Read more. 

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