(CMR) Government has finally admitted that their dealings with bio-tech company Oxitech has ended almost 3 months after Cayman Marl Road reported that was the case back in early November; with no real hope of any future collaboration.
In an extremely politically correct press statement government admits that the collaboration came to a formal end on 23 January 2019. However, the decision was made months before than to halt any further release of the controversial GM mosquitoes.
At the time our well placed sources informed us that there was information that the program was really not as effective as it was sold to the government as being. Once source noted:
“This project came around during the height of the Zika epidemic – so there was good reason for us to try any method to control the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. However, initial hopes have not been fully realized in terms of the effectiveness of the GM project.”
Furthermore, there were some trust concerns about Oxitec's handling of the project which the minister mentioned in a Finance Committee hearing late last year. Seymour said the bio-engineering firm had wanted to try a different method after the one involving the release of sterile male mosquitoes had not really worked but. However, the minister said he was uncomfortable with that as he had never been happy about the project in the first place.
He said that using another method would have been using Caymanians as guinea pigs and putting people at risk when “we don’t know what was going on”. In fact, CMR understands that the ministry has had some concerns about the accuracy of methodology and data reporting and there was a general breakdown in the truth between the two entities. Those comments lead to a further fallout between the parties with Oxitec allegedly threatening MRCU with legal action.
When CMR first reported the termination of the Oxitec contract many of their young Caymanian employees insisted that we had obtain inaccurate information and the project was continuing. They were being fed information by Oxitec representatives in Cayman that clearly left them in the dark about the true nature of the contract termination and were hopeful to still be employed with the company.
CMR understands that the new head of the MRCU was instrumental in convincing the government to end the contract; which was in stark contrast to Dr. Bill Petrie's position, the former MRCU's director.
As of last week Wednesday there was no one in the local Oxitec office. The following statement was released earlier today:
Joint Oxitec-MRCU 2018 Research Project Concludes as Planned
GRAND CAYMAN (GIS) – The joint research collaboration between the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) and bio-technology company Oxitec came to an end on 23 January 2019.
While field operations ceased on 21 December 2018, which was at the end of the high mosquito season, MRCU and Oxitec spent another month collating data based on several months of work. A joint steering committee continues to work on a final evaluation.
Noting that MRCU and Oxitec have a history of collaboration that goes back more than a decade, MRCU Director Jim McNelly, PhD says the working relationship between the two parties remains positive and collaborative. Dr McNelly adds that both parties benefitted from the close partnership.
The project was designed to learn over a 35-week period how to combine traditional mosquito control approaches with Oxitec’s OX513A self-limiting mosquito to best combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Through its bite the dangerous insect transmits dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
Both the research project, which took place in two small sections of West Bay, and its scientific protocol were jointly managed by the joint steering committee which is comprised of representatives from the Cayman Islands Government and Oxitec.
A project evaluation is underway that will assess various data types and lessons for the purposes of informing future interventions involving combined methodology. The steering committee is committed to sharing with the public its findings from the project, which are expected in the second quarter of 2019.
Oxitec CEO Grey Frandsen emphasises that the objective of this project was to improve scientific understanding of how to enhance future control efforts using Oxitec’s mosquitoes and MRCU’s traditional control methods.
While no work is currently planned for 2019, Mr Frandsen adds, MRCU and Oxitec will continue to discuss potential control programs in the future and will maintain their positive relationship going forward. MRCU will also continue to include Oxitec’s mosquito technology among a list of potential tools that it may deploy in the future to combat Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.