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Canadian COVID-19 vaccine maker says it can produce 50 million doses this year

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A Canadian company says it is on track to produce 50 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, which if approved, could give the country’s vaccine supply a much-needed boost to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Calgary-based vaccine maker, Providence Therapeutics, is still in the early stages of clinical trials for its mRNA vaccine candidate, and Manitoba is the only province that has announced a deal with them.

Read more: Domestic vaccine-makers want more help from Ottawa: ‘There’s been a real lack of leadership’

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“Providence can have millions of doses of messenger-RNA vaccine by this fall. We’re on that path now,” Ken Hughes, chair of the board at Providence Therapeutics, told the House of Commons on Tuesday.

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Beginning in July, the company said they have the capacity to produce 50,000 vials per day, with each vial containing 10 doses.

Our total capacity that we could produce in 2021 would be 50 million doses,” said Brad Sorenson, chief executive officer of Providence Therapeutics, during a virtual standing committee meeting.

The company said they are now receiving orders from provinces and more information on those orders will be disclosed in the coming days.

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Last week, the Manitoba government announced it had committed to purchasing two million doses of the made-in-Canada vaccine.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has also floated the idea of securing their own vaccine supply.

Read more: Canada’s vaccinations are lagging U.S., U.K.. Why experts say that shouldn’t be the focus

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Amid delays in vaccine supplies from Pfizer and Moderna and a sluggish start to Canada’s rollout, pressure has been mounting on the federal government to ramp up domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity.

Pharmaceutical companies argue having domestic manufacturers supported by domestic governments could help insulate Canadians from global vaccine trade wars.

Never again should we have to rely upon other countries for vaccines,” said Hughes.

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Domestic vaccine-makers like Providence Therapeutics have urged for more help from Ottawa.

As of December 31, 2020, the company said it had received more than $2 million from the federal government, but the feds have not yet committed to securing any of its vaccine doses.

We would welcome the federal support, but … we now have the ability to go to the capital markets and to raise sufficient capital funds to carry forward our plans, regardless of whether or not we have support,” said Sorenson.

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With concerns around the growing spread of variants, Sorenson said the company aims to accelerate its work on booster doses for the variants.

A human trial for their prospective vaccine, dubbed PTX-COVID19-B, kicked off in Toronto in late January.

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In a release Jan. 26, Providence said its vaccine is the first fully-made in Canada to reach the human clinical trial stage.

The biotechnology company says a group of 60 participants in the Phase I trial will be monitored for 13 months, but enough data should be gathered by April to move to a second phase of testing by May, pending regulatory approval.

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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a tentative deal with U.S. vaccine-maker Novavax to produce its product in a new National Research Council facility going up in Montreal if the COVID-19 vaccine gets approved for use here.

But that building won’t be finished until the summer and the new doses are not likely to start being pumped out until late fall at the earliest — long after Canada expects to import enough doses to vaccinate the entire population.

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In the industry committee’s last meeting on Feb 4. Procurement Minister Anita Anand said COVID-19 vaccine makers that Canada signed contracts with last summer were asked if they could make the doses in Canada and all of them concluded they could not.

Anand told the House of Commons that her department “proactively and repeatedly approached leading vaccine manufacturers” about the matter.

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Read more: ‘Perfect storm’: Is Canada headed for a third wave of COVID-19?

After a month-long lull, Canada is expected to get a big boost in the delivery of shots from Pfizer-BioNTech this week.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said on Monday it expects the two pharmaceutical companies to deliver more than 400,000 doses this week and another 475,000 following a slowdown as Pfizer expanded a production plant in Belgium.

In total, Canada has invested more than $1 billion to have access to up to 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven different manufacturers. But only two of these vaccines — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — have been given the greenlight by Health Canada.

— with files from the Canadian Press.