As Canada hits bumps in the road with international manufacturers of both approved coronavirus vaccines, one vaccine manufacturer says it hopes the federal government will take more interest in its made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine.
The vaccine, however, isn’t ready yet.
“We’re in our Phase 1 trial. We will be able to complete all of our clinical trials this year and we will be able to roll out vaccines to Canadians as soon as we have emergency authorization from Health Canada,” said Brad Sorenson, CEO of Providence Therapeutics, in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson.
Still, he says he’s still working to get the government’s attention.
“What we are trying to do now is get the government to engage us so that we can start stockpiling and building vaccines on spec, anticipating that approval.”
Without a home-grown vaccine producer, Canada has hit multiple hurdles with its vaccine rollout.
Pfizer recently announced plans to scale up its European manufacturing capacity – a move that has led to Canada receiving no vaccines during the last week of January, and fewer deliveries in early February.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced Moderna was cutting back February shipments of its vaccine to multiple countries – including Canada. The company will ship only about three-quarters of the expected supply next week, cutting Canada’s next shipment by more than 50,000 doses.
Trudeau did pledge, however, that Canada is “still on track to receive four million doses” of Pfizer’s vaccine “before the end of March.”
The delivery delays are proving confusing for medical professionals who are trying to anticipate when people can expect to receive their vaccines.
“It’s upsetting and it’s confusing, not only to health-care providers, but to Canadians in general,” said Dr. Ann Collins, president of the Canadian Medical Association, in an interview.
“It is distressing to hear that there’s been a decrease in the anticipated dose delivery numbers in the next coming weeks.”
While the government continues to assure Canadians that the country remains on track with its vaccination timeline, Collins said she’s beginning to have doubts.
“We keep hearing messaging from the prime minister that things are on track, everything will be still as it should be by the end of March. And of course, that doesn’t really add up,” Collins said.
“So that is distressing to health-care providers who are looking to this vaccine to help move us out of the pandemic, these individuals that are already stressed from the system under which they’ve been working the last 10 months.”
A key difficultly Canada has been facing in its quest to inoculate the population against the deadly virus is the fact that Canada lacks the capacity to produce the approved vaccines within its own borders.
That’s because Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines both use mRNA technology, and while Canada has multiple vaccine manufacturing facilities, none are currently capable of producing an mRNA-based vaccine.
The mRNA technology works by delivering genetic instructions for our cells to make viral proteins themselves. The body then begins to train itself to fight these proteins, building its immunity to the same protein found in COVID-19.
Calgary-based Providence Therapeutics’ vaccine candidate is also mRNA based. In a bid to get started on shoring up capacity for coronavirus vaccine production within Canada’s borders, the company has partnered with Northern RNA Inc. to start to build manufacturing infrastructure.
Still, Sorenson said that he’s having a hard time getting support from the Canadian government.
“I guess size matters, they were the first out of the gate,” said Sorenson, reflecting on why Canada has focused its early efforts on Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines.
“The prime minister mentioned that he’s cast a wide net. He’s secured vaccines from basically any company that he could. But now we see as the results are rolling out that the mRNA technology is clearly superior … so with that new information, that new context, we hope that the federal government will take a look at what capacity we have for messenger RNA within Canada.”
He said that his company has reached the point where they plan to send an unsolicited vaccine proposal to the federal government.
“We’re going to be sending a proposal, unsolicited, to the federal government detailing what we can do for Canadians. And so we hope that we’ll get some feedback from that proposal by next week and that we will be able to move this along,” Sorenson said.
“We’re going to send it straight to the top and see if we can’t engage them in a strategic discussion.”