US drugmaker Moderna will sign an agreement with the Canadian government that today promises to build an mRNA production plant in Canada.
Moderna CEO Stephan Bancel will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Federal Minister for Innovation François-Philippe Champagne in Montreal this morning. This is Ottawa’s second major deal to acquire mRNA vaccines made in Canada in the past three months.
In May, Champagne said Ottawa would save $199 million to Resilience Technologies in Mississauga, Ontario, about half the cost of expanding its existing plant to offset up to 640 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year.
A Champagne spokesperson told the Canadian Press that Moderna and Ottawa are still negotiating details about how much the federal government will contribute to the new plant, along with where and when it will be built.
He said Ottawa caught the attention of a number of life sciences companies last spring, when it promised $2.2 billion for biotechnology research and commercial production over the next seven years. About half of this is a fund that directly targets companies that want to expand or establish production lines in Canada.
Founded 11 years ago to research and produce messenger RNA or mRNA, vaccines and therapies, the COVID-19 vaccine is the first product ever licensed for widespread use.
Increasing production to meet massive demand was sometimes a problem for the young company. So far, Moderna has only partnered with the Swiss company Lonza to manufacture the vaccine drug at facilities in Switzerland and New Hampshire.
The vaccine has been completed and packaged in vials by a number of companies in Europe and the United States.
The future demand for mRNAs is expected to be greater than that of COVID-19
Canada has not played any role in the production of Moderna or any other vaccine for COVID-19 so far. The lackluster pharmaceutical industry, decimated over the past 30 years, has made Canada entirely dependent on imported vaccines to slow COVID-19. Many of the scientists on the teams making COVID-19 vaccines are from Canada but have been drawn far to the United States and elsewhere, where life sciences industries have been thriving.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is expected to call an election very soon, has bet some political capital to rebuild Canada’s life sciences, from basic research to clinical trials and big commercial production.
More than $1.2 billion has been previously committed, including money for resilience, $600 million for several COVID-19 vaccines and treatment clinical trials, and $126 million for the National Research Council to build a biopharmaceutical production plant in Montreal.
This facility, which is nearing completion, is making a vaccine for Novax in Maryland. The company had expected to request the final authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine last spring, but that has not happened yet. Last week, the company cited production consistency issues, when it delayed its expected order to the United States until the fall. This is the third time Novavax has delayed its US filing.
It began a rolling review of permission with Health Canada last winter, but final approval has not occurred in that country yet. Novavax is a subprotein vaccine, not an mRNA vaccine.
Canada also promised more than $400 million to help Sanofi complete a $925 million expansion of its Toronto vaccine plant. The current plant mainly produces influenza vaccines, and the expansion will focus on that as well.
mRNA vaccines are among the latest in vaccine technologies. They use RNA, a single-stranded molecule that usually carries specific codes about different human genes and instructs the body to make certain types of cells. The mRNA vaccine takes a code for parts of the virus that causes COVID-19 and attaches it to an RNA that, when injected, carries a message to the human immune system telling it to fight the virus.
Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are currently two flexible vaccines for the COVID-19 virus and no company can keep up with the current demand. But the future demand for mRNA products is expected to be much greater than just COVID-19.
Moderna alone has mRNA products in development for diseases including influenza, heart disease, cancers, and autoimmune disorders.