Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak on the ongoing outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. I would like to focus my remarks on highlighting the work done by our scientists in developing the Canadian experimental Ebola vaccine.
As my colleagues will know, on August 12, the Minister of Health announced that we would be donating up to 1,000 vials of this experimental Ebola vaccine to the World Health Organization. This vaccine was created in Canada by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory. This vaccine has never been tested in humans, but has shown strong promise in animal research. It is a result of years of hard work and innovation by Canadian scientists to improve global public health and security.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has been prepared to send the experimental vaccine for some time now. I am very pleased to hear that the World Health Organization finally signalled that it was ready to receive it, and vials began being shipped yesterday to Geneva. The WHO, in consultation with partners, including the health authorities from affected countries, will determine how the vaccine will be distributed and used.
I would like to share some information on the development of the Ebola vaccine at the Public Health Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory.
The agency's National Microbiology Laboratory officially opened in 1999. It is one of the few facilities in the world and the only one in Canada that has the capacity to accommodate and research the most basic to the most deadly infectious organisms at the highest level of biocontainment. It is a world-class laboratory with a mission to advance human health through laboratory leadership, scientific excellence, and public health innovation.
Before the opening of the facility, not a single researcher in Canada had the ability to work on hemorrhagic fever viruses such as Ebola. A potential case of Ebola in a patient could not even be diagnosed in Canada prior to 1999. Canada was entirely reliant on the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. It speaks to Canadian innovation that within three short years of the facility's opening its doors, researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory had already developed the foundation of what would become the experimental Ebola vaccine.
Through continuous research and experiments that spanned a decade, scientists at the facility perfected a vaccine that has been effective in protecting non-human primates from the deadly Ebola virus. The particular species of Ebola for which the vaccine was developed, Zaire Ebola virus, is considered one of the most aggressive infectious agents, capable of causing death in up to 90% of humans and non-human primates.
For over a decade, at a time when Ebola outbreaks were only sporadic and quickly controlled, Canadian researchers continued their important work to find ways to fight and protect against this virus, knowing the potential for this deadly disease to spread. They recognized that although Ebola is not indigenous to Canada, international travel provided the opportunity for the transport and introduction of this disease into countries outside Africa through an infected individual.
They also realized the potential for the Ebola virus to be used as a biological weapon and worked closely with other government departments to ensure that Canada was prepared.
Their research also had a much broader goal. They believed that the novel technologies and methods used to create treatments and vaccines against aggressive viruses such as Ebola could potentially be applied to less intimidating pathogens. This belief still holds true today. The cascading effects of Ebola research at the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory may soon lead to a universal flu vaccine, may help Canada stop the next pandemic, and could directly contribute to and help shape the future development of better therapeutics to fight a range of new and emerging pathogens.
This is the reality of the important work being done in Canada. It truly exemplifies the world-class research conducted by agency scientists.
The Ebola vaccine was a Canadian discovery, with ongoing support from the Government of Canada over the last 15 years. Through considerable funding for this cutting-edge and innovative special pathogens research program, Canada can now, more than ever, stand proud as an international leader in the field of infectious disease research. Since 2007, well over $5 million has been specifically invested to help agency researchers find vaccines and treatments against Ebola as well as some other very dangerous organisms.
I am proud to say that thanks to this funding, Canada has developed vaccines and treatments for a range of hemorrhagic fever viruses. In addition to this promising vaccine, Canada created and tested the ZMapp Ebola treatment. This post-exposure treatment has a very good survival rate in non-human primates. The treatment uses a unique regimen of multiple doses of antibodies designed and engineered to find, attach to, and effectively cut the Ebola virus, preventing the virus from reproducing and multiplying in the body. It has no side effects.
It is believed that the ZMapp treatment was directly responsible for saving the lives of some front-line workers who became infected with the Ebola virus in West Africa. This is an important example of work being done in Government of Canada laboratories that has led to the saving of lives. It is a proud moment for all Canadians.
In addition to the Ebola vaccine and treatment, the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory has developed vaccines that have been shown to be 100% effective at protecting against the Marburg virus and the Lassa virus. These viruses can be deadly and have no known cure.
The threat of these viruses entering the country is real. It is because of the hard work and dedication of so many, through innovation, vision, and scientific tenacity, that I can proudly say that our country is prepared and ready should a hemorrhagic fever virus enter Canada.
There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada, but Canada must be prepared for a case to come here. While provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada stands ready to assist.
The work to develop a vaccine or treatment is not done in isolation. Discoveries of this magnitude require collaboration throughout government departments, investment by private industry, and, importantly, international partnerships. This vaccine is an example of what can go right when scientific knowledge is shared across borders, when important additional funding is made available through a variety of specialized grants, and when private industry is brought up to help further the work of Canadian scientists.
While multiple organizations assisted in some aspects of the development of the vaccines, I would like to highlight that the intellectual property rights for this vaccine belong to the Government of Canada. I can assure the House that the Public Health Agency is in regular contact with the licensee of the vaccine and with multiple international partners, including the WHO, to provide guidance and advice on ways to advance the clinical trials and facilitate the production of Ebola therapeutics.
Phase I clinical trials for these vaccines were launched on October 13 at the Walter Reed Army Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. Canada has supplied 20 vials of the experimental vaccine for use in these trials. We have confidence in this vaccine, but we must remember that it is an experimental vaccine and that phase I clinical trials are important to assess the overall safety of the vaccine in humans and to determine the appropriate dosage. Outcomes of these phase I trials are expected in December.
Canada is an important contributor to the fight against Ebola in West Africa. This is in no small part due to the researchers at the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory, who have devoted their work to find cures and treatments for those who so desperately need it.
I would end my remarks by echoing the parliamentary secretary's remarks that while the motion before the House is commendable in recognizing the devastation wrought by this Ebola outbreak, it is imperative that we as parliamentarians allow our public health officials and ministers the flexibility necessary to focus their efforts on addressing this outbreak.
To that end, I move, seconded by the member for Don Valley West, that the motion be amended by replacing the words “appear before” with the words “report either in writing or in person to”.