Ottawa announces agreements with two international companies for COVID-19 vaccines

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Nurse Kath Olmstead, right, gives volunteer Melissa Harting, of Harpersville, NY, an injection as the world’s largest study on a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., kicks off July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, NY

Hans Pennink / The Associated Press

Ottawa has made deals with two international pharmaceutical companies to purchase their COVID-19 vaccine candidates for distribution in Canada, federal officials said Wednesday.

Details of the deals with Moderna and Pfizer Inc., including the cost of the vaccines, were not disclosed, but Public Services and Procurement Canada Minister Anita Anand said millions of doses have been ordered from the two companies for delivery in 2021. She added that similar arrangements were being sought with other suppliers, with options to increase orders as needed.

“We are working on all possible fronts and diversifying our vaccine supply chain,” Ms. Anand said.

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Although the terms of each agreement vary, the two vaccines will ultimately require regulatory approval from Health Canada. Part of that will depend on how they perform in clinical trials over the next few months.

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At a press conference in Toronto, Ms Anand said parallel efforts were underway to increase the supply of needles, syringes and alcohol swabs as part of “preparing Canada for mass vaccination” against COVID -19.

At the same briefing, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, said his department had formed a vaccine task force to provide the federal government with advice on experts on vaccines to buy first on the global market and on Canadian vaccines. made vaccines to support them with additional funding and production capacity to move them into clinical trials.

“The number one priority is to make sure we have safe and effective vaccines for all Canadians,” Bains said. “In the long term, we also want to build a solid industrial base for [Canada’s] life sciences sector. “

The widespread distribution of an effective vaccine is widely viewed as the only viable solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the nearly 200 COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world, around 30 have been tested on humans. As of this week, six of them have now reached Phase 3 clinical trials designed to measure the effectiveness of vaccines by administering doses to thousands or tens of thousands of people and monitoring their infection rates over time. time. Among the six are the two vaccines that Canada has so far arranged to purchase.

The vaccine developed by Moderna, a Massachusetts biotechnology company, showed promising results in an initial study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Pfizer’s vaccine was developed jointly with BioNTech, a company based in Germany. This partnership has already entered into similar agreements to supply its vaccine to Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

BioNTech has confirmed that part of the manufacturing for the Canadian order will take place in Canada.

The federal announcement also included $ 56 million for Ottawa-based Variation Biotechnologies Inc. and $ 3 million for Nova Scotia-based IMV Inc. to support clinical trials of two vaccine candidates made in Canada. . Earlier this year, the federal government funded Medicago, a Quebec company that last month launched the first COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial in Canada.

On Wednesday, 133 of 180 volunteers received an injection of the Medicago vaccine in a phase 1 trial, which is primarily a safety test of the vaccine.

The multiple investments reflect a wider awareness that more vaccines may be needed to beat the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale, said Alex Romanovschi, medical director of GSK Canada, who has partnered with Medicago for its trial .

“Ultimately, no company will be able to cover the whole world,” said Dr Romanovschi.

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The federal government has signed agreements with Pfizer and Moderna to gain access to millions of doses of their investigational COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Purchasing Minister Anita Anand said the vaccines have yet to complete human trials and be found safe and effective against COVID-19. If Health Canada approves them, she said, the agreements would ensure that Canadians are among the first to receive doses next year. The canadian press

Although several international vaccines are more advanced in testing than major Canadian candidates, experts argued that Canada should complement its international procurement with efforts to accelerate vaccine development and domestic production capacity at a time when it is not known which vaccines will work best.

Prioritizing national immunization projects, as well as potential international partnerships, is part of the mandate of the 12-member working group on vaccines, which began work in early June.

“We’re making the investments now to make sure something works,” said Joanne Langley, professor of pediatrics and community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Mark Lievonen, former president of Sanofi Pasteur Ltd. who co-chairs the working group with Dr Langley, said he is leading a subcommittee that specifically looks at the manufacturing challenges that vaccine manufacturers will face in Canada.

Canadian participation in vaccine production could become critical if international shipments are delayed in their country of origin due to domestic demand or for other reasons.

One clue of the problems that can arise when relying on international sources is evident in the continued delay in vaccine delivery from CanSino Biologics – a Chinese company that has partnered with the National Research Council of Canada – to a clinical trial in Halifax. This trial was supposed to have started two months ago, but the vaccine has not yet been released by Chinese customs.

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Mr Bains declined to speculate on the cause of the delay, but said the question underscored the need to keep many options open.

Despite these prospects, not all of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates in Canada have been successful in attracting federal funds.

On Wednesday, Providence Therapeutics released the results of preclincial testing of its mRNA vaccine candidate based on the same technology as candidates Moderna and Pfizer. The company is now seeking support to move forward with clinical trials.

Brad Sorenson, chief executive of the company, said the results show that the vaccine has the potential to be as good or even better than its international competitors.

“The question is, does Canada want to be a buyer or a seller? ” he said.

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