Canada’s top doctor ‘optimistic’ after Canada-China vaccine partnership collapses

In the aftermath of the collapse of a multimillion-dollar coronavirus vaccine collaboration between Canada and China, Canada’s chief public health officer says she is optimistic about advance purchase deals made recently with the American producers of two front-running vaccine candidates.

This week Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) announced it has abandoned its partnership with Chinese company CanSino Biologics because China’s government continues to block shipments of vaccine materials to Canada. If Canada had received CanSino’s vaccine this summer and confirmed its safety and effectiveness in testing, Canadians would have been front-of-line for a guaranteed supply of the vaccine, produced in NRC facilities.

But Canadian scientists and a former Canadian official responsible for vaccine collaborations with China told Global News it appears Chinese officials have blocked CanSino material because of Beijing’s geopolitical objectives.

Read more: China blamed for Canada’s multimillion-dollar coronavirus vaccine deal collapse

At a COVID-19 response briefing Friday, chief public health officer Teresa Tam said she is “optimistic” despite the CanSino collapse and Canada is “continuing to pursue all (potential vaccine supply) avenues internationally and domestically.”

Earlier this month, the Canadian government signed new deals with pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna to secure millions of doses in 2021 of the coronavirus vaccine candidates each company is currently developing.

7:09 How close are we to developing a coronavirus vaccine?

How close are we to developing a coronavirus vaccine?

Tam said there are over 100 vaccine candidates in testing worldwide and Pfizer and Moderna are in the group of about 10 going through Phase 3 clinical testing.

“I was heartened with the results for older adults in the Moderna vaccine [testing],” Tam said. “But you might not expect this vaccine for quite a few months, and we may be looking at [obtaining supply of] more than one vaccine. We are keeping all of those options open.”

Canadian vaccine researcher Gary Kobinger said the CanSino vaccine has fallen behind many candidates worldwide after its Phase 2 test results. In simple terms, the CanSino vaccine is designed to prepare immune systems to fight the coronavirus by introducing another virus — Ad5-nCoV — that encourages the production of coronavirus antibodies.

However, many elderly people have already been exposed to the virus used in the CanSino vaccine. And that means their bodies have already naturally developed defences, and won’t produce the needed coronavirus antibodies without boosted doses, Kobinger says.

“It’s a waste because it is not effective for the most important population,” Kobinger said. “There are many candidates that Canada should be betting on rather than this one.”

Meanwhile, CanSino responded Friday to reports that NRC has abandoned its partnership with China.

“Up to the date of this announcement, the collaboration between the National Research Council of Canada and the Company has not been terminated. None of the management of the Company has accepted any interview in relation to the clinical trails (sic) for Ad5-nCoV in Canada in the recent period,” a statement sent to Global News says. “The Company is currently driving the international multi-centre phase III clinical trial for Ad5-nCoV with several countries.”

And according to the Wall Street Journal, a senior CanSino executive said the company is negotiating with several countries “to get emergency approval to use an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, developed with the Chinese military, before the completion of large-scale safety and effectiveness trials.”

“Pierre Morgon, senior vice-president for international business at CanSino, said getting the vaccine out to millions of people now, before its clinical trials are complete, would broaden the base of knowledge about the drug’s safety and effectiveness,” the Journal reported.

Morgon said several developed countries were in talks with CanSino, along with Pakistan and some Latin American countries, according to the report.

CanSino did not immediately respond to questions from Global News for this story.

And the NRC did not respond to a question from Global News on the information in the Wall Street Journal report.

Read more: Canada-China COVID-19 vaccine trials abandoned: National Research Council

The NRC — which is part of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry — has received about $44 million since late March to upgrade its production capacity in Montreal in preparation for materials expected from CanSino.

The NRC says it is working with two other COVID-19 vaccine collaborators including the United States company VBI Vaccines.

“With the funding received from the Government of Canada on March 23 and April 23, much work is underway at NRC … to certify our facility … and expand production,” the NRC stated. “These enhancements to the facility will support a broad range of partners and clients with research, scale-up support, and the manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics.”

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

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