To date, every COVID-19 vaccine that has entered a Canadian’s arm has been produced outside the country.
It is now about to change.
With Novavax filing for approval of its vaccine with Health Canada, Montreal is set to be the first Canadian city to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine, although domestically produced injections are only available today. ‘next year.
It’s a step that should help keep Canadians vaccinated during the current pandemic, prepare the country for the next global health crisis, and spur the country’s research and development.
Developed by the American biotechnology company of the same name, Novavax is known as a protein subunit vaccine, which makes it different from the current COVID-19 vaccines that we know of. The bottom line: It still requires two doses, but tests have shown that it is very effective and faster to manufacture.
“Having this type of effective vaccine within our borders is really going to allow us to expand it to the population in a way that can lower the numbers,” said Dr Sumon Chakrabarti, disease specialist. infectious diseases at Trillium Health. Partners in Mississauga.
Canadian production is expected to begin in 2022 at the National Research Council of Canada’s Biologics Manufacturing Center in Montreal.
Once it is operational, federal officials say the facility should be able to produce 24 million doses of vaccine per year.
WATCH | This is the first Canadian facility to produce a vaccine against COVID-19:
Do we need another vaccine?
Canada ordered millions of vaccines and, while the initial deployment was slow, deliveries quickly exceeded demand.
So why do we need another vaccine? The short answer is boosters and variants – and other potential pandemics.
“This pandemic is not going to go away anytime soon,” John Trizzino, commercial director and chief commercial officer of Novavax said in an interview with CBC News in June when the facility was announced.
“We expect there to be some circulation of this through 2022 and 2023. And so, therefore, we think it’s important that we have enough production capacity in Canada to accommodate that.”
Canada was once a leader in large-scale vaccine manufacturing and disease eradication, but lost its edge when the labs were sold to international pharmaceutical giants in the 1980s and 1990s.
When COVID-19 vaccines began production, Canada had to rely on foreign manufacturers.
Agreements with major pharmaceutical companies to produce their vaccines in Canada were unsuccessful because the country did not have a facility that could be adequately adapted for production.
Once the vaccines were approved by Health Canada, deliveries were slowed by supply chain issues in Europe and political red tape with American manufacturers, according to Chakrabarti.
A nationwide facility would alleviate, if not eliminate, these problems, he said. And because future pandemics are a real possibility, having the capacity to produce vaccines domestically would make Canada more independent.
Settling in Montreal is a first step towards self-sufficiency in a time of crisis and “being able to kick-start and be prepared if something like this happens again,” said Chakrabarti.
A different vaccine
Novavax is different from COVID-19 vaccines like Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna. These mRNA vaccines provide the body with a genetic code that asks it to make its own spike protein, which trains the immune system to recognize and fight off the famous spike protein that allows the SARS-CoV-2 virus to bind to cells. and infect someone. Novavax does this by injecting an altered version of the spike protein gene that does not make you sick.
The Novavax vaccine appears to be effective in terms of preventing hospitalizations and even symptomatic illnesses, Chakrabarti said.
In June, Novavax announced that clinical trials found the vaccine to be around 90% effective overall and preliminary data showed it to be safe.
While the current rollout of vaccination in Canada, mostly mRNA vaccines, is going well, Chakrabarti says that in the future we may need another type of vaccine to help with diversification.
In a perfect world, Canada should develop the capacity to produce more than one type of vaccine, says Dr Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCfV) in Halifax.
“The diversity of choices is very helpful in responding to the pandemic,” he said.
“It’s not that one platform is better than another; each has its advantages and disadvantages. It would be ideal if Canada had domestic manufacturing capacity for all of these platforms.”
Unlike mRNA vaccines, Novavax can be stored at refrigerator temperature for weeks and does not need to be frozen in special ultra-low temperature freezers, which simplifies distribution.
In the future, there will be a need for readily available vaccines, and producing Novavax here is a response to that, Chakrabarti said.
Montreal is not the only place where national vaccines are likely to be produced. Medicago, which produces the only “homemade” vaccine in Canada, is in phase 3 trials and could produce a vaccine in Quebec by 2023.
The University of Saskatchewan’s vaccine and infectious disease organization VIDO-InterVac recently completed its first phase of testing and, if it passes the approval process, could produce up to 40 million doses per year.
Putting Canada back on the vaccine map
While vaccination campaigns are going well here, many other parts of the world are struggling.
“This is a global disease and if there are major epidemics occurring in different parts of the world, it will ultimately affect us, indirectly and directly,” said Chakrabarti, noting that if Canada is able to produce vaccines in the country, it can also supply vaccines for other countries.
The national development of vaccines with the installation of Montreal is also revealing of the adaptation of the country’s response to the pandemic.
Last fall, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) shifted its priorities and decided to build a permanent clinical trials facility, said Lakshmi Krishnan, NRC vice president of life sciences.
The facility would support the Biologics Manufacturing Center, she said, acting as a bridge between research and development and large-scale production, manufacture of vaccines and biological materials for clinical trials.
Construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022, and then it will go through an inspection and approval process.
All of this should put Montreal and Canada back on the vaccine map at a key time when vaccination and disease prevention are increasingly important with the emergence of different viral pathogens, Chakrabarti said.
The construction of the facility in Montreal could not only provide a sense of civic pride, he said, but could also be a “kind of precursor event for the rest of Canada … to restore our ability to produce vaccines. in the country “.