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Vaccine Discovery, Technology Transfer, Public Health, Ebola Vaccine, Patents, Commercialization, Open Science


The discovery and development of the Ebola rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine challenge the common assumption that the research and development for innovative therapeutic products and vaccines is best carried out by the private sector. Using internal government documents obtained through an access to information request, we analyze the development of rVSV-ZEBOV by researchers at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory beyond its patenting and licensing to a biotech company in the United States in 2010. According to government documentation, the company failed to make any progress toward a phase 1 clinical trial until after the WHO Public Health Emergency of International Concern freed substantial donor and public funds for the vaccine’s further development. The development of rVSV-ZEBOV, from sponsoring early stage research through to carrying out clinical trials during the epidemic, was instead the result of the combined efforts of the Canadian government, its researchers, and other publicly funded institutions. This case study of rVSV-ZEBOV underscores the significant public contribution to the R&D of vaccines even under conditions of precarity, and suggests that an alternative approach to generating knowledge and developing interventions, such as open science, is required in order to fully realize the public sector’s contribution to improved global health.

Note: Funding Statement: The research for this paper was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR EOG 123678, CIHR PJT 156256, and CIHR PJT 148908), the PACEOMICS project funded by Genome Canada, Genome Alberta, Genome Quebec, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Alberta Innovates—Health Solutions, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The authors would also like to acknowledge the contributions of several research assistants, including Heather Webster, MarcusMcLeod, Michael Gardener and Alexandra Ghelerter.

Declaration of Interests: We have the following interests to declare: MH is a member of Canada’s Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB). He receives honoraria for his work as a PMPRB member. MH has no other financial relationships with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, or private corporations. RG has no conflict of interests to declare. JG has no conflict of interests to declare.