The pharmaceutical that must produce vaccines in Montreal may have to close shop
Paul Chiasson The Canadian Press Novavax must settle on the site of the National Research Council of Canada of Royalmount Street, in Montreal.
The federal government's vaccine factory in Montreal risks seeing its current occupant desert it. The American pharmaceutical company Novavax, whose vaccine against COVID-19 must be manufactured in these brand new facilities, is experiencing major financial difficulties which threaten its survival. However, it ensures that its collaboration with Canada continues.
In February 2021, Ottawa announced with great fanfare an agreement with Novavax, which it invited to settle on the site of the National Research Council of the Canada (NRC) on Royalmount Street in Montreal. At the time, the federal government was funding the construction of a new vaccine factory there with $123 million.
Four months later, in June 2021, construction of the Montreal Biologics Production Center was completed. However, Novavax's vaccine was not yet authorized by Health Canada – it would be in February 2022, when the majority of the population would already be vaccinated – and its production would still require numerous regulatory approvals before it could begin.
These processes continue until today: no regular dose of the Novavax vaccine has yet been produced in the Quebec metropolis. Last December, the Maryland-based company said it would manufacture the first batches in Montreal in early 2023.
However, in its financial results presented Tuesday evening, Novavax raised concerns “serious doubts” about its ability to stay in business for more than a year. Its income for the year 2023 is far from certain. Management is considering cutting expenses, which may involve cutting positions.
The laboratory revealed on Tuesday that the US government had informed it of the early end of its vaccine purchase contract as early as next December. At the start of the pandemic, Washington promised to buy 100 million doses of this vaccine, at a total price of 1.6 billion US dollars. So far, less than 80,000 doses of Nuvaxovid have been administered in the United States.
Nuvaxovid is not more popular in Canada. Barely 30,000 doses have been injected in the country, out of the almost 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. In Quebec, less than 5,000 doses of Nuvaxovid have found takers.
Christine Jodoin, Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives at the National Research Council of Canada, now says that, despite Novavax's financial pitfalls, the collaboration with this partner continues.
It also specifies, in a statement sent to Devoir,that NRC continue to “explore options with potential collaborators to produce vaccines and other biologicals on the second production line at the facility” in Montreal.
In an email to Duty, Novavax says, “We continue to work with the NRC on the production of our COVID-19 vaccine, Nuvaxovid, and manufacturing of process performance qualification batches is expected to begin. in early 2023.”
According to clinical studies — conducted before the emergence of the Omicron variant — Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective in protecting adults against mild, moderate or severe cases of the disease.
< p>Nuvaxovid is a slightly more conventional vaccine than the messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer or Moderna. To make it, moth cells are used to produce the “little spikes” on the surface of the coronavirus in large numbers. These spicules are then assembled into a synthetic molecule, which is administered to the patient.
The grim developments about Novavax come a month after those about Medicago. At the beginning of February, the Japanese owner of this company based in Quebec announced the definitive interruption of the activities of its subsidiary. Medicago had received over $250 million in loans and grants from Ottawa and Quebec for its COVID-19 vaccine.
The biopharmaceutical company founded in 1997 thus delivered only a handful of doses after the approval of its vaccine against COVID-19 in Canada, in February 2022. Its financial setbacks are explained in particular by the refusal of the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend this vaccine made from tobacco leaves because the tobacco company Philip Morris was one of its shareholders.
Future vaccine production in Canada therefore now rests in good part on Moderna, which is currently building a messenger RNA vaccine factory in Laval. This one, supposed to be able to produce 100 million doses per year, is due to start up next year. Versatile, it will be able to produce vaccines or treatments for diseases other than COVID-19.
French pharmaceutical company Sanofi is building an influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto. The federal government is supporting this initiative with an envelope of up to $415 million.
With Agence France-Presse