The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg is working with a sample of the new coronavirus that’s causing clusters of infections abroad — but can’t share the material with other researchers across the country despite the public health urgency.
It was a Dutch lab that sent a Saudi sample of the virus to Winnipeg, where scientists are looking for better ways to diagnose and treat the infection. So far, 41 confirmed cases and 20 deaths have been recorded.
Frank Plummer, scientific director of the National Microbiology Laboratory, says his researchers can’t distribute the coronavirus sample to other labs in the country. (John Woods/Canadian Press)
But before they could start, officials had to sign a material transfer agreement, a contract that outlines the terms and conditions for using the coronavirus sample.
The Dutch “had pretty tight restrictions around how it could be used,” Frank Plummer, scientific director of the National Microbiology Laboratory, said in an interview. “So there was a lot of negotiation and a lot of lawyers involved both with us and the Americans and others around the world, which slowed things down quite a bit.”
Such agreements exist for different reasons — sometimes because countries want to make sure a dangerous bug won’t fall into the wrong hands, sometimes because they want to exert their rights if a vaccine or treatment is developed. But the agreements also impede the research process, say scientists.
“We can’t distribute [the virus] any further, which is a problem, because a lot of people would like to be working on this and can’t,” Plummer said.
In contrast, Plummer said China simply gave away samples of the H7N9 bird flu virus, as did Mexico with H1N1 swine flu in 2009."
Saudi coronavirus work stymied at Canadian lab - CBC