According to the National Research Council (NRC), the chance to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine in Canadian clinical trials is now “over.” This is because Chinese customs failed to approve it for shipment to Canada. On Thursday, the NRC indicated that CanSino Biologics “does not have the authority” from the Chinese government to ship the Ad5-nCoV vaccine candidate “at this time.”
The emailed statement from the NRC reads, “Due to the delay in the shipment of the vaccine doses to Canada it is evident this specific opportunity is over, and the NRC is focusing its team and facilities on other partners and COVID-19 priorities”. However, in May, CanSino, which is headquartered in Tianjin, China, signed a contract with the NRC. The Canadian Center for Vaccinology was preparing to start clinical trials as early as June after Health Canada’s review and approval. However, the Canadian authorities stated that the Chinese government was stalling the shipment process, which resulted in a standstill of the progress.
The statement says, “The agreement between the NRC and CanSino was reviewed prior to signature by CanSino’s collaborators in the Chinese government – the Beijing Institute of Technology and the Ministry of Science and Technology – who had provided funding to CanSino. Subsequent to signing, the Government of China introduced process changes regarding shipping vaccines to other countries. The process is not clear to the NRC.”
Other countries, including Russia, Chile, Argentina, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, have received the Ad5-nCoV vaccine candidate for Phase 3 trials or large-scale testing on humans. In China, human trials of the vaccine candidate are also in Phase 3, and the Chinese government has approved it safe for use in its military. After it presented no major safety issues, the vaccine was one of the first in the world to enter the second phase of human clinical trials. Though the anticipated Canadian clinical trials were expected to be fast-tracked through typical regulatory hurdles due to the urgency of the pandemic, typically, testing a vaccine can take five to seven years.
CanSino’s vaccine was established by applying a cell line from the NRC that was earlier used to produce an Ebola vaccine.
In the meantime, Francois-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister toned down rumors that the vaccine partnership failed because of the ongoing political tensions between Canada and China. On Thursday, Champagne told reporters that he didn’t necessarily think so and could only speak for the Canadian side. He added that he did not believe that that particular opportunity was linked to anything else. Since the Chinese detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in apparent retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant in December 2018, relations have been tense.
The director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, Dr Scott Halperin, confirmed that not being able to get the vaccine could set Canada back in the fight against COVID-19. Halperin said the CanSino vaccine is one of the furthest along of any of the candidate vaccines, so it would have been nice to do that study. He added that not only working on the vaccine, but they certainly don’t like losing access to any one of them as they need multiple vaccines. He noted that if his lab got the vaccine, its study would have been “well along by now.” He added that they thought the shipment would be coming any day, as did the company.
Sabina Vohra-Miller, the Clinical pharmacologist, stated that it was a significant missed opportunity for Canada to hand over that kind of asset without securing intellectual property rights on the vaccine. Sabina said it was a miss as people wouldn’t have that by-product if they didn’t have that foundational system of the cell line. She said people would expect that there would be reciprocity on that as they are trying to be the noblest citizens in terms of advancing science and making sure that there is no gatekeeping with that. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday that some contracts are in the works to make sure Canada gets early access to potential COVID-19 vaccines.