University of Manitoba cuts ties with Ebola researcher amid RCMP investigation

The National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg on May 19, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The University of Manitoba has severed ties with a researcher in its health sciences department after she was linked to an ongoing RCMP investigation.

Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, an award-winning Ebola researcher who worked as an adjunct professor in the department of medical microbiology, is no longer at the university, according to spokesperson John Danakas.

“Dr. Qiu’s appointment as a non-salaried adjunct at the University of Manitoba has ended, pending the RCMP investigation,” he wrote. Her husband Keding Cheng’s appointment was also ended.

The investigation in question involves what the Public Health Agency of Canada has called “possible policy breaches” at its National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, where Qiu also works as a researcher.

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The laboratory includes Canada’s only Level 4 containment facility, where dangerous pathogens like the Ebola virus are handled under strict security and safety protocols.

PHAC spokesperson Eric Morrissette said in an emailed statement that on May 24, PHAC advised the RCMP of “possible policy breaches.”

“We are looking into an administrative matter at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) and are taking steps to resolve it expeditiously,” Morrissette said. “There is no employee from the NML under arrest or confined to their home.”

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“We can assure Canadians that there is no risk to the public and that the work of the NML continues in support of the health and safety of all Canadians.”

The RCMP confirmed that it had been contacted by PHAC.

“We will not speculate on the potential outcome of the investigation,” wrote RCMP spokesperson Julie Courchaine in an emailed statement, adding that the RCMP had assessed there was no threat to public safety at this time.

CBC reported earlier this week that Qiu and Cheng had been escorted from the laboratory, however PHAC would not confirm that she was linked to the ongoing investigation at the lab.

“For privacy reasons, we will not provide further information on this matter,” Morrissette said.

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The RCMP did not answer Global’s question as to whether the investigation was related to Qiu.

WATCH: (From March 2018) Canadian scientists create Ebola vaccine, treatment

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2 Canadian scientists create Ebola vaccine, treatment

Qiu, who received her medical degrees in China, is an immunologist who was recently honoured for her work developing a treatment protocol and a vaccine for Ebola.

She received the Governor General’s Innovation Award alongside her colleague Dr. Gary Kobinger in May 2018 for their Ebola treatment, called ZMapp, which successfully cured 25 patients in an early trial in 2014.

“We’re really thankful to all Canadians for their support,” she said in her acceptance speech. “All Canadians should be proud of this success.”

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Qiu told Global News in 2018 that she was also working on the Marburg and Lassa viruses — both hemorrhagic diseases related to Ebola. Of her work on an Ebola vaccine, she said: “It’s really exciting to see many years of work can be used to help the patient and help to contain the outbreak. It’s really, for us, it’s kind of a dream come true.”

Kobinger, her former colleague, told Global News on Monday that he had no information about the investigation but that he was concerned for her and her family and hopes that there will be more transparency and reliable information soon.

Qiu did not respond to a request for comment sent to her government email address.

-With a file from the Canadian Press

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