“We started out, I would say, in a position that I don’t want to end up in in the future, no matter what happens next,” Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told POLITICO in a recent interview.
But even as the government works to put the country ahead of the Covid variants, it is determined to lay a better foundation for the next pandemic. It is not alone.
“Many countries around the world have come to the same conclusion as Canada, that they would like to have more national capacity. … Part of the challenge is to [companies’] attention and attract them to Canada, ”added Champagne.
Lessons learned from the impact: The scarcity of bioproduction in Canada has highlighted the health risks of foreign dependence as well as the political risks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized for Canada’s program to gun down. Trudeau predicted that anyone who wants to get vaccinated will be able to do so by September, although he recently said the deadline may end up being shorter. Only 1.76 percent of Canadians were fully immunized by March 27 and only about 10 percent had received a dose, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Last year, his government signed contracts totaling more than C $ 1 billion with eight pharmaceutical companies to field promising vaccine candidates from abroad. Canada, however, will not have the capacity to produce its own Covid-19 vaccine until late 2021 at the earliest.
Critics have centered on whether Canada could have produced its own vaccines, rather than depending on international drug shipments, some of which have experienced delays.
Trudeau acknowledged that the pandemic had caught the world off guard and that there was a lot to learn from it.
Introducing Canada to the Pharmaceutical Industry: Champagne, who is Trudeau’s resource on rebuilding vaccine manufacturing in Canada, said he was working on phones with CEOs in the pharmaceutical industry to get them to invest in the country.
The Minister’s sales pitch includes promoting Canada’s research institutes, its highly skilled workforce and the smallest population of the G-7.
“This is a real advantage because, on the one hand, you can come here and meet our domestic needs relatively quickly and you can use Canada as a base to export to the world,” he said, stressing that the Canada had trade agreements with the Pacific region, Europe and North America.
The biggest obstacle? Champagne, who was foreign affairs minister until Trudeau put him in his new post in January, says it is attracting corporate attention in a crowded global arena.
Future planning: Dr. Alan Bernstein, a member of the Canadian Covid-19 Vaccine Working Group, said in an interview that the pandemic has reinforced the need for governments to partner with the private sector.
For example, he said the US government had succeeded by partnering with drugmakers on a vaccine through the Trump administration’s accelerator, Operation Warp Speed. On the other hand, he said that the European Union had decided that it would only be a consumer.
“And look who’s in bad shape these days,” said Bernstein, who is also president and CEO of CIFAR, a global research organization based in Canada. “When there is a pandemic – and there will be another, of course … there is a public interest at stake and therefore there has to be a public investment at stake.”
Bernstein argued that Canada is somewhere between the US and the EU because it got vaccine doses and started investing in its own production capacity for the future.
Worse and worse: He said successive governments over the past 25 years have failed to encourage drug companies to stay in Canada.
“We never worried about it because, of course, we had the supply,” Bernstein said. “There were always a lot of them around, so it was never seen as a problem until this pandemic happened.”
Pamela Fralick, who heads the pharmaceutical industry association in Canada, said conditions in the country have not been favorable to the industry for decades. In recent years, she said the Trudeau government’s costly regulatory measures had made matters worse.
Fralick, the president of Innovative Medicines Canada, said that before the pandemic relations between government and industry were at an all-time low. Global CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry, who have the power to direct investments, contacted the Trudeau government four times before the pandemic and “in reality they got no meaningful response,” she said.
“We haven’t even really been able to meet a minister as an association here in Canada,” said Fralick, who added that the pandemic has reduced tensions and led to “fragile but positive change”.
Trudeau himself highlighted his direct conversations over the past few months with the world’s top leaders in the pharmaceutical industry., including Dr Albert Bourla of Pfizer.
The world race: Bernstein said the pandemic has forced countries to find ways to consolidate vaccine supplies, an environment that has created bidding wars with manufacturers.
“[They want] to make sure that, for the next pandemic, they don’t get caught with their pants down, “he said.” Every politician is highly motivated to resolve this situation. “
Fralick said the pandemic had indeed launched an international competition.
“Almost every country in the world will feel blinded by this pandemic. … Canada is certainly not alone, ”she said, noting that only a handful of countries produce the vaccines. “We were caught off guard.”
The effort, so far: Last week, Champagne announced a federal investment of up to C $ 415 million in a new Sanofi influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto. The deal offered a roughly 50-50 split between governments and industry.
Fralick, who does not know the terms of the deal, said the “50 cent dollars” should take precedence over the company’s concerns about some of the other issues.
In February, Trudeau announced a memorandum of understanding with Novavax Inc. that would see the company produce its Covid-19 vaccines at a new facility in Montreal, which received C $ 126 million in funding.
The facility is expected to be ready to produce the vaccine by the end of 2021. The Novavax vaccine is still under review and has not yet received approval from Health Canada.
The government also announced agreements to develop bioproduction with domestic companies, including investments of up to C $ 173 million with Medicago and C $ 25.1 million with Precision NanoSystems Inc.
And after: Champagne says Canada is in talks with many players. “We are trying to advance as much as possible and I think you will see more to come,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think we need to be better prepared for whatever is to follow.”