'No one is hiding anything,' Aglukkaq tells House committee
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | 4:03 PM ET
The decision not to build a planned multimillion-dollar HIV vaccine manufacturing facility in Canada was based on finances, not politics, the country's chief public health officer says.
Dr. David Butler-Jones and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq both spoke Tuesday to the Commons health committee.
In February, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed that a facility to make HIV vaccines used by researchers worldwide in clinical trials wouldn't be built in Canada. The facility would have been the main project in the $111-million Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative, a venture between Canada and the Gates Foundation that was announced three years ago.
In the February announcement, the agency said a study commissioned by the foundation concluded there was enough vaccine manufacturing capacity worldwide to meet research needs.
The four bids came from corporations and universities in Winnipeg, Peterborough, Ont., London, Ont., and Quebec City.
On Tuesday, Butler-Jones told MPs that peer reviewers ranked the four bids internally on scientific merit to advise the department. But none of the bids met key criteria of sustainability or financial capacity to continue, Butler-Jones said.
"There was a fair and open process," Butler-Jones said in response to questions to the minister on the review process from NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis. "You suggest somehow I would alter that. That's untrue," he said.
"No one is hiding anything," agreed Aglukkaq.
Gates and others in the field recognized that the research capacity issue was addressed in the past 18 months, which wasn't the case two or three years ago when the bidding process began, Butler-Jones said.
Both Butler-Jones and Aglukkaq said funding earmarked for the facility is still going to the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative. The federal government and the Gates Foundation are discussing how the money will be used.
Bidders had spent up to $2 million, including $750,000 by Winnipeg, opposition MPs said.
Aglukkaq also answered questions about the shortage of medical isotopes. The price of available isotopes has gone up, and the world's two biggest isotope producers, Canada and the Netherlands, have taken their reactors offline.
The Dutch reactor will be shut down for six months and Canada's reactor in Chalk River, Ont., is not expected to be running until the end of May.
Aglukkaq said she has "committed to having discussions" with provinces and territories about the extra overtime costs they've faced in paying health-care workers mitigating the isotope shortage by working on evenings and weekends.
Liberal health critic Carolyn Bennett said the government should just go ahead and agree to pay the bill.
"Once you get the numbers from them, minister, will you be able to reimburse them for the money they've had to spend in hospitals and clinics because there have been no isotopes?" Bennett asked.
Aglukkaq replied that she has not received cost information from provinces and would not speculate on if they will be reimbursed.
The government is trying to help ease the shortage by turning to isotopes now being made at a refurbished reactor in Poland.
"We have expedited the reviews for submissions to increase the supply in Canada," Aglukkaq said.
Conservatives will also reintroduce bill C-6, a proposed consumer product safety bill that aims to modernize Health Canada's response to protect children from injury such as the power to search for, seize and recall dangerous consumer products. Aglukkaq gave the example of recalling cribs for amputation risk.
Before Parliament prorogued, Liberal senators tried to alter the bill in December with amendments to protect entrepreneurs and homeowners from its search-and-seizure provisions.
Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/health/s