Lack of vaccine capacity propels Canada into global race to attract drug companies

“We started, I would say, in a position where I don’t want to be in the future, whatever comes next,” said Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne in a recent interview with POLITICO.

But even as the government is working to get the country ahead of the Covid variants, it is determined to create a better stand for the next pandemic. It is not alone.

“Many countries in the world have come to the same conclusion as Canada that they want more domestic capacity. … part of the challenge is to get [companies’] Attention and lure them to Canada, ”added Champagne.

Lessons from Fallout: The shortage of organic production in Canada has highlighted both the health and political health risks of reliance on foreigners.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced Canada’s program to get his arms around cans. Trudeau predicted that anyone wanting to get vaccinated could do so by September, although he recently said the length of time could get shorter. Only 1.76 percent of Canadians were fully vaccinated on March 27, and only about 10 percent had received a dose, says the Canadian Health Department.

Last year, his government signed contracts totaling more than CAD 1 billion with eight pharmaceutical companies to identify promising foreign vaccine candidates. However, Canada will not be able to manufacture its own Covid-19 vaccine until the end of 2021 at the earliest.

Criticism centered on whether Canada could have made its own vaccines instead of depending on international drug supplies, some of which have experienced delays.

Trudeau recognized that the pandemic took the world by surprise and there is much to be learned.

Canada’s Pitch on Pharma: Champagne, Trudeau’s primary person in charge of rebuilding vaccine manufacturing in Canada, said he worked with pharmaceutical CEOs to encourage them to invest in the country.

The minister’s sales pitch includes promoting Canadian research institutes, its highly skilled workforce and how it has the smallest population in the G-7.

“This is a real benefit because, on the one hand, you can come here and meet our domestic needs relatively quickly and use Canada as a base for exporting to the world,” he said, noting that Canada has trade deals with the Pacific in Europe and North America .

The biggest obstacle? Champagne, who was foreign secretary until Trudeau shuffled him into his new job in January, says this is getting business attention in a crowded global field.

Future planning: Dr. Alan Bernstein, a member of Canada’s Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force, said in an interview that the pandemic has increased the need for governments to work with the private sector.

For example, he said the U.S. government had success by working with drug makers on a vaccine through the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed ​​accelerator. In contrast, the European Union decided to be a consumer only.

“And see who’s in bad shape these days,” said Bernstein, who is also president and CEO of CIFAR, a Canada-based global research organization. “If there is a pandemic – and of course there will be another … there is a public interest at stake and therefore a public investment must be at stake.”

Bernstein argued Canada was somewhere between the US and the EU because it secured vaccine doses and began investing in its own manufacturing capacity for the future.

From the rain in the eaves: He said successive governments for the past 25 years have not encouraged drug companies to stay in Canada.

“We never bothered about it because of course we had supplies,” said Bernstein. “There was always a lot of it, so it was never seen as a problem until this pandemic.”

Pamela Fralick, head of the Pharmaceutical Industry Association in Canada, said conditions in the country have not been hospitable to the sector for decades. In recent years, she said the Trudeau administration’s costly regulatory measures made it worse.

Fralick, the president of Innovative Medicines Canada, said so before the pandemic Government-industry relations were at a low point. Global pharma CEOs with the power to direct investments reached out to the Trudeau administration four times prior to the pandemic and “received virtually no meaningful response,” she said.

“We couldn’t even really get a meeting with a minister as an association here in Canada,” said Fralick, who added that the pandemic had eased tensions and resulted in “fragile but positive change.”

Trudeau himself has highlighted his face-to-face conversations with the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies over the past few monthsincluding Dr. Albert Bourla from Pfizer.

The global race: Bernstein said the pandemic has forced countries to find ways to sustain vaccine supplies, an environment that has led to bidding wars with manufacturers.

“”[They want] to make sure they don’t get caught with their pants down in the next pandemic, “he said.” Every politician is highly motivated to remedy this situation. “

Fralick said the pandemic actually created an international competition.

“Almost every country in the world will feel blind from this pandemic. … Canada is certainly not alone, “she said, noting that only a handful of countries make vaccines.” We were caught flat-footed. “

The effort so far: Last week, Champagne announced a federal investment of up to $ 415 million in a new Sanofi flu vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto. The deal offered about a 50:50 split between governments and industry.

Unaware of the terms of the contract, Fralick said “50 cents” must take precedence over the company’s concerns on some of the other issues.

In February, Trudeau announced a memorandum of understanding with Novavax Inc. to manufacture its Covid-19 vaccines at a new facility in Montreal, for which $ 126 million had been allocated.

The facility is expected to be ready to manufacture vaccines by the end of 2021. The Novavax vaccine is currently under review and has yet to be approved by Health Canada.

The government has also announced contracts to expand organic production with domestic companies, including investments of up to $ 173 million at Medicago and $ 25.1 million at Precision NanoSystems Inc.

What’s next: Canada is in talks with numerous players, according to Champagne. “We’re trying to move as many as we can and I think you’ll see more,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think we need to be better prepared for what’s next.”

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