Federal government invests $200 million to build an mRNA vaccine plant in Ontario

The federal government today announced a $200-million investment to help a Mississauga, Ont.-based company build a plant that can churn out millions of mRNA vaccines.

Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the money will be used to expand an existing site owned by Resilience Biotechnologies Inc. to provide “made-in-Canada solutions such as vaccines and treatments for future pandemics.”

The funds will expand Resilience’s manufacturing and fill-finish capacity for a number of vaccines and therapeutics, including mRNA shots like the ones now being used to fight COVID-19, Champagne said.

The government says the plant expansion will create 500 permanent jobs and 50 co-op placements for students once construction is complete in 2024.

The addition of some 55,000 square feet of factory space will allow Resilience to manufacture between 112 million and 640 million doses of mRNA product each year. The goal is to leave Canada less dependent on foreign vaccine makers when the next pandemic hits.

WATCH | Trudeau, Champagne announce funding to build mRNA vaccine plant in Ontario:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne say the government is investing $200-million to build a Mississauga, Ont.-based mRNA vaccine production facility. 2:09

Resilience is a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), which means it assembles products developed by other companies.

It’s standard for big pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca, Merck and Pfizer to outsource the actual drug manufacturing process to third parties. Some companies have sold their manufacturing sites to focus on research and development. A Novartis-owned plant in Boucherville, Que. was sold to Avara, a contract manufacturing operation, in 2018.

There isn’t currently a CDMO in Canada that is capable of producing a supply of vaccines sufficient to meet national and international demands.

Quebec-based Medicago reports promising early clinical trial results

Canada has been entirely dependent on foreign sources for shots throughout this COVID-19 crisis. As a result, Canada has had to contend with the threat of export controls and vaccine nationalism, which made for a turbulent first few months of the vaccination campaign.

Based on recommendations from the COVID-19 vaccine task force — an independent body of industry experts assembled to advise Ottawa on procurement — the federal government signed deals AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi, and the one Canadian company, the Quebec City-based Medicago.

Last fall, the federal government floated $173 million to help Medicago develop its COVID-19 vaccine and build a large plant to produce it.

On Tuesday, Medicago, which is developing the product in combination with GSK, reported positive early clinical trial data on its plant-derived COVID-19 vaccine, which is different than the mRNA shots offered by Pfizer and Moderna or viral vector vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

“After two doses, the adjuvanted vaccine candidate induced robust neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in all subjects, irrespectively of age,” Nathalie Landry, the executive vice-president of scientific and medical affairs at Medicago, said in a statement.

Medicago’s plant-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate is now in Phase 2 clinical trials. (Medicago)

“These results give us confidence as we continue to move forward with our phase three clinical trial. We hope to add another tool in the global fight against COVID-19, particularly as cross-protection emerges as an important consideration in vaccination efforts worldwide,” she said, referring to the concept of mixing two different vaccine products.

In addition to the Resilience funding pledge today and the Medicago commitment, the federal government has already promised some $455 million for a major expansion of Sanofi’s Toronto plant, which will primarily produce flu shots but it can also be retooled to produce vaccines for coronaviruses.

Once operational, Sanofi will be able to manufacture enough influenza vaccines for all Canadians each year at its Toronto facility.

The federal government recently announced financial support to help French company Sanofi bolster vaccine production in Toronto. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Beyond the new money for future vaccine plants, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that Canada will receive nine million more mRNA shots from Pfizer in July.

That means the New York-based pharmaceutical company will be sending two million vaccine doses to Canada each week for the foreseeable future. Based on those figures, another nine million shots will be delivered in August and September. Canada has ordered a total of 48 million doses from Pfizer, enough to fully vaccinate 24 million people with two shots.

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