Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today a plan to produce millions of COVID-19 shots at a plant in Montreal starting later this year, securing a domestic supply of vaccines as the global market contends with delivery delays and protectionist measures.
The National Research Council-owned Royalmount facility will churn out tens of millions of doses of the product developed by Maryland-based Novavax, Trudeau said. That company submitted its vaccine to Health Canada for regulatory approval last Friday.
Novavax has said its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine product produced an efficacy rate of 89.3 percent in late-stage clinical trials, with strong protection against the strain of the virus first reported in the U.K., which has shown to be more resistant to other vaccine candidates.
Canada agreed to purchase shots from Novavax — a biotechnology company that has been at the forefront of developing new vaccines against influenza — last August. The government has since upped that purchase agreement with a commitment to buy at least 52 million doses of the two-dose product.
Last summer, Trudeau announced more than $125 million to upgrade the NRC facility to produce vaccines domestically and avoid the global scramble for shots.
At the time, Trudeau said the factory could produce hundreds of thousands of shots starting in November. But the project ran into problems when it was determined the facility didn’t meet exacting good manufacturing practices (GMP) required for such a site.
Initially, the factory was expected to produce the co-developed drug with CanSino, a company based in China, but that partnership was put on hold after the Chinese government blocked shipments before clinical trials can begin.
Renovation work on the NRC facility continues and is now expected to be ready for production of COVID-19 injections this year, with a production capacity of about 4,000 litres per month, or about two million doses of vaccine.
When complete, the facility will be able to make viral vector, protein subunit, virus-like particle-based vaccine doses, but not mRNA shots like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Novavax product is of the protein subunit variety.
While construction of the facility is expected to be completed by July, the NRC must then ensure GMP (good manufacturing practice) standard approval from Health Canada, a process that could take months.
Once the plant is certified, production will start “soon after,” Trudeau said, and the plant should be up and running as soon as this summer.
While construction of the site is expected to finish in July, the NRC facility then has to secure GMP approvals from Health Canada.
In addition to the Novavax manufacturing deal, the government is providing financial support for vaccine development from Vancouver-based Precision NanoSystems.
The $25.1 million investment will help the company construct a biomanufacturing centre to produce vaccines and therapeutics for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, rare diseases and cancer.
But the company’s planned self-amplifying ribonucleic acid (RNA) COVID-19 vaccine will not be ready this year, in fact, according to a government backgrounder, Precision NanoSystems’s shot won’t be produced in Canada until sometime in March 2023.
The University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) is also working to stand up domestic manufacturing capacity of a COVID-19 vaccine, but that facility won’t be completed until the end of 2021 at the earliest.
While this new production capacity will help the country combat possible future variants of COVID-19, or other infectious diseases, the agreements will do little to reduce the insatiable demand for vaccines in the present.
Canada passed on the domestic manufacturing rights to the AstraZeneca product. But other allies, like Australia and Japan, are set to produce that shot at their facilities starting this spring.
Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole welcomed a partnership with Novavax but said such an agreement should be signed much earlier so that Canada is not fully dependent on foreign sources as it is now.
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