Medicago’s Canada-made COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada

Click to play video: 'Health Canada approves Medicago, first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine'
Health Canada approves Medicago, first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine
Health Canada approves Medicago, first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine – Feb 24, 2022

The first Canadian COVID-19 vaccine, by Quebec-based company Medicago, was approved for use by Health Canada Thursday.

The home-grown vaccine, called Covifenz, marks the world’s first-ever plant-based jab authorized for human use and is also the first Canadian shot to be approved in over 20 years.

The vaccine has been approved for people aged between 18 and 64 after clinical trials showed a 71 per cent effectivity rate in protecting trial participants in that age group against COVID-19, Health Canada said in a press release.

The jab, which is currently only approved in Canada, was also 100 per cent effective against severe disease caused by COVID-19, Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor at Health Canada, said in a press conference Thursday.

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“The active ingredient of the vaccine consists of particles that mimic the spike protein that causes COVID-19,” she said. “The virus-like particles are grown in plants that are similar to tobacco plants, which can produce large amounts of the virus particles in a short period of time.”

“As with all other COVID-19 vaccines, it is not possible to catch COVID-19 from this vaccine.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Health Canada provides details on first ever plant-based shot approved for human use'
COVID-19: Health Canada provides details on first ever plant-based shot approved for human use

The last phase of data, which included 30,000 volunteers, was submitted for regulatory review by Health Canada in December of last year, the company previously announced.

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The vaccine is a two-dose regimen that must be administered 21 days apart, based on evidence from clinical trials.

“It’s fantastic news. We’ve been developing this technology for over 20 years now, starting as a small biotech, and today we get the achievement of 20 years of work,” said Marc Andre D’Aoust, executive vice-president of innovation, development and medical affairs at Medicago.

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He added that a production plant set to be ready in 2024 is also currently being built in Quebec to expand production capabilities and meet market demand.

“It will be built to manufacture this vaccine, but it can also manufacture other vaccines. For example, influenza, if an influenza vaccine is needed,” D’Aoust said.

Besides being in the midst of creating a third booster shot, the company is also developing a vaccine to specifically target the Omicron variant. The study is focusing what advantages an Omicron-based vaccine would bring compared with the current one.

Although the decision on how exactly the Covifenz jab will be distributed isn’t up to Medicago, D’Aoust said the vaccine is stable at a refrigerated temperature – an advantage for global distribution.

On Thursday, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, confirmed this vaccine will be used for global distribution but was unable to provide specific details.

Because the vaccine is plant-based, unlike influenza and MMR jabs that are cultured in chicken eggs, its technology allows for quicker production.

Click to play video: 'Plants key for Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine contender'
Plants key for Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine contender

“The plant is basically acting as a factory to produce the spike protein,” Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology in Halifax, previously told Global News.

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Once injected, the plant forms VLPs, which are known as “virus-like particles.”

“The human who gets that sees that as, ‘Oh, that looks like a virus,’” Halperin said. “It’s not a virus that can infect you because it’s just a plant capsule surrounding the spike protein, but because the immune system is tricked into seeing it as a viral particle, it responds very well.”

Although VLP technology has been already been seen as an effective platform — most notably in HPV vaccines — developing VLPs in plants for use in a commercial vaccine has never been done.

Last year, Medicago’s CEO and president from 2017 to December 2020 told Global News that for years the company has been asking the federal government for money to assist with pandemic preparedness and to develop an at-home manufacturing plant.

A Global News analysis last year of the federal lobby registry shows that from 2017 to March of 2020, when the pandemic was declared, Medicago representatives met with government officials 24 times, seeking “partnerships and funding to support research, development and commercialization of vaccines” and to prepare against “future outbreaks of emerging infectious disease.”

Nationwide, 84 per cent of people aged five and up have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 540,069 cases of the virus currently active.


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