William Amos discusses his government’s vaccine purchasing strategy
Article published on 22 February 2021
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Pontiac MP, Liberal William Amos, released a statement regarding Canada’s strategy to secure vaccines. Remember that last week, the Conservative candidate for the riding of Pontiac, Michel Gauthier, severely criticized the Liberals and William Amos for his government’s strategy. A few weeks ago, Michel Gauthier had also denounced the criticisms of the federal member for Pontiac, towards Quebec, concerning the second dose of vaccination.

Full Declaration of William Amos
Early in the pandemic, our government assembled the independent COVID-19 Vaccine and Therapeutics Task Forces, made up of leading scientific and industry experts, to guide Canada’s vaccine decision-making. We followed their advice on the best way to:

1. Secure access to the leading international vaccine candidates;
2. Invest in the most promising Canadian vaccines and therapies;
3. Make strategic investments to rebuild Canada’s domestic biomanufacturing capacity

In assessing proposals, the Task Forces asked two basic questions: i) Will it be safe and effective? and ii) Will be available to Canadians as quickly as possible to respond to the pandemic?

They provided our government with critical recommendations on which international vaccines to pursue, resulting in advanced purchase agreements with six companies, including Pfizer and Moderna, from a pool of over 200 vaccines in development worldwide.

On the domestic front, a call for proposals was launched in April to Canadian researchers and companies working on COVID-19 medical countermeasures. We had a total envelop of $600 million to invest in these projects and we received funding proposals for dozens of vaccine and therapeutic candidates of different types and at different stages of development.

Over the course of summer 2020, our expert task forces reviewed these projects, concentrating on:

○ scientific and technical merit;
○ strength of the project plan and risk management;
○ company track record;
○ timing/progress; and
○ overall contribution of the project to Canada’s portfolio of technologies.

Companies showing strong scientific data were invited to present this data to the Task Force. This provided an opportunity for members to ask questions and to clarify key issues. Advice was revised if new information came to light. Based on this information, the Task Force presented and provided its advice to the government. From there, the Government of Canada conducted itsdue diligence and based on their advice, we made significant investments in three Canadian vaccine companies (Medicago, Variation Biotechnologies, and Precision Nanosystems) and three Canadian therapeutics firms (AbCellera, Arch Biopartners, Edesa Biotech Research Inc.) with more to come.

Companies whose research was promising, but at a much earlier stage, were transferred to the National Research Council to be funded through the Industrial Research Assistance Program. To date, the NRC has finalized agreements with ten small businesses working on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies.

To be very clear – Canada vigorously pursued all leads and made investments in Canadian companies based on the best advice of scientists and experts. And our strategic investments are paying off. For example, Quebec City-based Medicago, for whom we announced funding on March 23rd , is now in Phase III clinical trials and hope to have their vaccine in the arms of Canadians by the second half of this year. We have a purchase agreement for 76 million doses if and when it’s approved. Ultimately, a number of proposed projects did not receive funding. This would be for a number of reasons including lack of scientific promise, insufficient pre-clinical evidence that their vaccine or therapy would be effective, or too long a timeline.

Finally, it is important to address the topic of domestic biomanufacturing. When this pandemic started, Canada had no flexible, large-scale capacity to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s important to remember how we got to this point. Since the mid-1980s, Canada’s bio-manufacturing (vaccine production) capacity has been in decline. During the same period, domestic demand has increased, leaving Canada reliant on imported products. This shift began in the 1980s when the federal government decided to privatize Connaught Laboratories, Canada’s crown jewel of public vaccine manufacturing. Within 10 years, the domestic biomanufacturing ecosystem in Canada had eroded. A number of notable firms and investments have left Canada.

A few examples:

○ In 2007, AstraZeneca closed its Canadian manufacturing operation and consolidated this activity into its Sweden-based manufacturing facilities.
○ In 2010, Johnson & Johnson closed its research centre in Montreal.
○ In 2011, Teva closed one of its Canadian manufacturing operations in Montreal.
○ In 2013, Boehringer Ingelheim shut down its Laval R&D facility that focused on Hepatitis C and HIV.

When we formed government in 2015, we immediately enabled new investments in the life sciences sector. And we recognized early in the pandemic that we needed to build up our domestic capacity to manufacture vaccines for Canadians. But developing this capacity is far from easy. It requires facilities, specialized equipment and highly qualified personnel, who are in short supply across the world. We have made a number of key short- and medium-term investments to support these initiatives and continue to evaluate options for a long-term strategy.

These investments include $170 million in the National Research Council to build a largescale Biologics Manufacturing Centre and a smaller Clinical Trial Manufacturing Facility in Montreal.The construction of the largescale facility is on track for completion in July 2021 and will be able to produce up to two million vaccine doses per month once fully operational. We have signed an MOU with Novavax to manufacture their vaccine at this facility once it is ready.

Additionally, we invested $46 million in the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac), to help accelerate the development of its candidate COVID-19 vaccine, and transform its current animal vaccine production facility to meet the standards required for producing human vaccines. Once their facility is ready at the end of 2021, VIDO will be able to manufacture up to 40 million doses of vaccine per month, effectively supplying Canada.

We also invested $25.1 million in Precision Nanosystems, a Vancouver-based biotechnology company, to expand Canada’s ability to produce RNA vaccines and other genetic medicines. Finally, we provided funding for both Medicago and AbCellera to scale up their biomanufacturing capacity in Canada. Once completed in 2023, Medicago will be able to supply all of Canada, and export vaccines to the world.

As you can see, there has been a tremendous amount of work on these issues since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. The volunteer experts who lead our COVID-19 Vaccine and Therapeutics Task Forces have stated clearly in Parliamentary committee that Canada has done everything possible as quickly as possible to secure doses and rebuild our domestic manufacturing capacity. This is incredibly complex and technical work and I’d like to thank the public servants, many of whom reside in the riding of Pontiac, who have worked tirelessly to secure access to a vaccine for Canadians.

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