While the United States is feuding with China over that country's responsibility for unleashing the coronavirus pandemic on the world, Canada is actually partnering with a Chinese firm to test one of the vaccines in development.
China's CanSino Biologics Inc , the company behind one of the few coronavirus vaccine candidates already in clinical trials, is collaborating with Canada's National Research Council to "pave the way" for future trials in Canada, the research council said Tuesday.
The NRC said it would scale up a production process for CanSino's vaccine at a government facility in Montreal, and CanSino was preparing a trial application for drug regulator Health Canada.
If CanSino's vaccine works, the collaboration could help ensure Canadians have access to it. Local trial data could reassure Health Canada the vaccine is safe, and local manufacturing could ensure some doses are at hand.
Asked whether the collaboration would make it possible for Health Canada to consider data gathered in China, NRC said, in general, data can be shared with the regulator's approval.
"Canadian clinical trials will expand on Chinese data and provide an enhanced understanding of the vaccine candidate's safety profile," the agency said.
A vaccine that protects people from the coronavirus could end the pandemic, but finding one that works and manufacturing enough doses is a huge challenge.
Relations between Canada and China have been strained since Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Dec. 1, 2018 at the request of the United States. Her arrest infuriated the Chinese government, which subsequently detained two Canadian citizens — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — on state security charges.
But in the midst of the pandemic, Canada has struggled to import protective equipment from the United States, turning in part to suppliers in China. A federal procurement website notes Canada has "established on-the-ground support in China" to manage bulk purchases.
CanSino and the NRC have worked together since 2013, and the company's vaccine is produced using a cell line that was developed at the NRC, the agency said.
CanSino Chairman Xuefeng Yu worked in Canada from 1996 to 2009, according to the company's website, mainly for Sanofi.
Relations between the United States and China already had been strained as well over trade talks and China's building of artificial islands in the South China Sea in disputed waters the U.S. and its allies say are for military purposes, which China denies.
But tensions have gotten worse with the Trump administration, most notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump himself, saying there is evidence the virus, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, originated in a lab in that city. The Chinese government insists the virus sprang from a wet market in the city, but has refused to allow outside inspectors into the area until the pandemic is completely contained — which might never happen.
As for the Canada deal, shares of Hong Kong-listed CanSino rose April 26 after the company said Health Canada had agreed to meet to discuss a clinical trial application.
Separately, Canada promised C$600 million Tuesday to replenish the GAVI vaccine alliance, to support routine vaccinations around the world. GAVI is also helping low-income countries respond to coronavirus outbreaks.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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