Human technology

Canadian university races former Chinese partner to make COVID-19 booster

The federal government has trumpeted past vaccine partnerships with a China-based company as one of the reasons Canada was pinning its hopes on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate from China at the start of the pandemic.

Corn The fifth state looked at those partnerships and found that a collaboration with McMaster University in Hamilton stalled years ago and never resulted in an approved vaccine anywhere in the world.

This collaboration did little to benefit the university or Canada. Instead, the company, CanSino Biologics, and McMaster are now independently racing to develop similar COVID-19 booster vaccines.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a former federal civil servant who brokered science and technology agreements between Canada and China, said the CanSino-McMaster vaccine deal could prove to be “a case study of what we must not partner with China”.

“The point is to work together, to have the smartest people working together for the common good so that fewer people die,” McCuaig-Johnston said. The fifth state. “But there is a valid reason for distrust.”

  • For more on Canada’s relationship with CanSino, watch “The Vaccine” on The fifth state at 9 p.m. Thursday on CBC-TV and streaming on CBC Gem

CanSino Biologics, based in Tianjin, China, was founded in 2009 by scientists who studied and worked in Canada. Over the years, the company has maintained ties with Canadian researchers and used Canadian technology to develop its vaccines, including an Ebola vaccine and its single-shot COVID vaccine.

CanSino Biologics Inc. is headquartered in Tianjin, China, an industrial city southeast of Beijing. The company has a large manufacturing plant and offices on site. (Tribal Productions Asia)

McMaster also signed a license agreement for its tuberculosis vaccine with CanSino more than a decade ago. However, the partnership has not been active for years.

Yet the National Research Council of Canada cited this longstanding CanSino-McMaster collaboration as a reason the federal government did business with CanSino for a COVID-19 vaccine injected at the start of the pandemic.

The federal government had hoped that the CanSino COVID-19 vaccine could be manufactured and manufactured in this country, but in May 2020 Chinese officials blocked it from coming to Canada for human trials.

After the deal fell through, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that the reason Canada partnered with CanSino was the “well-established partnership” between scientists from Canada and China “that has been effective in the past.

Allowed to continue research

McMaster scientists developed a tuberculosis vaccine in 2011 and granted its worldwide marketing rights to CanSino.

McMaster hoped that CanSino could in turn provide funding as well as manufacturing capabilities for the trials, given that TB is still a problem in China.

McMaster and CanSino jointly conducted trials in monkeys at Wuhan University School of Medicine, resulting in a study published in 2015.

But that’s as far as the CanSino-McMaster relationship has gone. The two groups have never done human trials together. CanSino continued to research other vaccines.

McMaster continued the research on its own and developed an innovative inhaled version of its tuberculosis vaccine. The researchers then conducted phase 1 human trials in Canada with financial support from the federal government.

“CanSino really hasn’t done anything about our vaccination program,” said McMaster lead researcher Dr. Fiona Smaill. The fifth state.

“They provided us with no funding for our research or any ongoing relationship regarding the direction in which our research program was headed.”

Researchers at McMaster University demonstrate an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine currently in phase 1 human trials. (Jon Castell/CBC)

CanSino CEO Dr. Xuefeng Yu said The fifth state that his company has granted exclusive “worldwide rights” to McMaster’s tuberculosis vaccine.

“So basically we allowed them to work, to continue to work on the research side of the TB vaccine,” he said.

The company and the university seem to disagree on what exactly the license agreement covers.

WATCH | Dr. XuefengYu describes the arrangement with McMaster:

CanSino CEO says TB vaccine showed promise

Dr. Xuefeng Yu explains that with tuberculosis being a big problem in China, his company was keen to solve it with a new vaccine from McMaster. 3:08

Smaill insists the deal is only for an earlier intramuscular version of the TB vaccine.

“I think it’s also important to re-emphasize that our TB vaccine trials were not part of the deal and we did not share data or receive funding from CanSino,” Smaill wrote. in an email. “In short, we have no relationship with CanSino beyond the TB license agreement.”

Neither CanSino nor McMaster has released full contract details.

WATCH | Dr. Fiona Smaill describes the details of the contract with CanSino:

McMaster scientist describes first deal with CanSino

Dr. Fiona Smaill says McMaster initially licensed the TB vaccine to CanSino in hopes of conducting large trials and getting the vaccine to people who needed it. 2:35

However, CanSino cites the contract in its records and states that it licensed the tuberculosis vaccine and “relevant patent rights and technology information rights owned by McMaster.”

The contract stipulated that CanSino would pay McMaster $105,000 in milestone payments, with the possibility of royalties on sales.

Smaill confirmed that CanSino’s contract summary was accurate. She added that it was for a maximum of 20 years, ending in 2031.

COVID-19 Rappel Race

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, McMaster pivoted, trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine based on its tuberculosis technology that CanSino claims has exclusive rights to market.

McMaster’s COVID-19 vaccine research made headlines last fall when Health Canada approved its candidate COVID-19 vaccine for Phase 1 human trials.

WATCH | McMaster is testing an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine:

McMaster University is developing inhaled aerosol COVID-19 vaccines

Professor Fiona Smaill of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., is conducting trials for two new inhaled aerosol drugs intended to serve as COVID-19 booster vaccines. 7:54

CanSino had the same idea for an inhaled COVID-19 vaccine, and the company appears to be well ahead of McMaster. Its inhaled vaccine is now in phase 2 and 3 human trials.

Last April, CNBC reported on CanSino’s innovative inhaled COVID-19 vaccine and interviewed Yu.

“We actually conducted human TB trials in Canada,” Yu told the US News Network.

Yu was apparently referring to the McMaster trials, which the university says it conducted on its own with funding from the Canadian government.

Last fall, Yu said The fifth state that CanSino’s inhaled COVID-19 vaccine is based on “commercially available technology” and that he was unaware that McMaster was developing its own inhaled vaccine.

“I haven’t really had a conversation lately with McMaster University. I’ve been so busy with COVID-19 in the last year,” he said.

Deal offers ‘low return’, warns expert

In a recent email, The fifth state asked Yu to clarify whether CanSino’s COVID vaccine is based on McMaster’s tuberculosis vaccine. The fifth state also asked if the TB license agreement would affect McMaster’s ability to market its COVID-19 vaccine.

However, CanSino did not respond.

McCuaig-Johnston, who has negotiated international science and technology agreements, said depending on the stringency of that particular deal, McMaster could have difficulty getting its vaccines to market.

She also said the deal gives “a pretty low return for McMaster,” if indeed the tuberculosis vaccine forms the basis of CanSino’s new inhaled COVID-19 vaccine.

“Why was there no negotiation for a higher value of the dollar figure if there is an outcome?” said McCuaig-Johnston. “Because it could potentially be a billion dollar product.”

WATCH | The Fifth Estate documentary, “The vaccine“:

Bob McKeown examines how a deal the Canadian government struck with a China-based company to create a COVID-19 vaccine fell apart, and why some say Ottawa should never have considered the deal in the first place. 45:10