Canada has finally made the call to terminate the CanSino Biologics Ad5-nCoV clinical trial, the nation’s first such study targeting a potential COVID-19 vaccine. After months of delays, no group is more disappointed than the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University that was to lead the effort for the entire nation. Although some nameless, faceless bureaucracy is blamed, the vital research partnership fell victim to the growing political tensions griping Canada and China or potentially what is a North American and Chinese stress.
Although the Chinese government was a partner to CanSino Biologics—the Beijing Institute of Technology and the Ministry of Science and Technology had helped fund the vaccine’s development—they actually reviewed and signed off on the agreement between Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) and CanSino Biologics.
Red Tape or Something More?
Apparently, according to Canada’s NRC, after the Chinese government signed off on the deal, the Chinese government changed the process for shipping vaccines to other nations. The Chinese government is not being candid or forthright with Canada’s NRC and CanSino Biologics, of course, has no authority to override the Chinese government.
CBC News’ Alex Cooke reports that CanSino Biologics didn’t respond to a request for information; however, Dr. Xuefeng Yu, the company’s chairman and CEO, informed The Globe and Mail that “Bureaucratic indecision was the reason behind the shipping delays, and now the time to do the trials had ‘already passed.’”
Disappointment to Director
CBC News met with Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology in Halifax, Nova Scotia. TrialSite had covered the enthusiasm behind all of this with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, declaring that the University of Dalhousie-based center along with IWK Health Centre and Nova Scotia Health Authority would spearhead the first clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine in all of Canada.
CanSino Biologic’s Big Chance
What a deal for CanSino Biologics. Although it wasn’t a national distribution deal, the arrangement between CanSino Biologics and Canada via the NRC could have evolved into just that if the trials were with the Canadian Center for Vaccinology (located in the IWK Health Centre). Upon the inception, the founders of CanSino Biologics sought to bring world class vaccines to China and then share those back out with the whole world. Canada represents an important customer: Western and wealthy. This would most certainly materialize a dream of the founders, developing world class vaccines out of China.
An Unfolding Situation
But even before COVID-19, things were becoming tenser with geopolitical conditions getting more ominous. Political tensions between the United States and China also included Canada in the equation. Growing nationalism around the world may perhaps be a temporary impulse or the result of a deeper urge for a new world order. There is much up in the air, yet, at the same time unfolding in real time. Imminent political elections within the United States, for example, expose what some would consider dangerously divergent chasms—political, social, cultural and economic—that if unchecked and amplified, could take the entire North American continent to heretofore new crisis conditions. This, of course, will impact the rest of the world.
That Canada lost its first COVID-19 vaccine trial perhaps is a naïve position. Most likely they never in fact had one and the whole deal was doomed from the start given exactly the state of political economy. Something to consider for a post-mortem analysis.
Canada, of course, has gone on to multiple Plan Bs as far as a vaccine strategy but the Canadian people have to step back and understand how government decision makers got themselves in such a situation in the first place.