“We started, I would say, in a position that I don’t want to be in the future, whatever happens,” Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne told POLITICO in a recent interview.
But even as the government works to put the country ahead of Covid’s variants, it is determined to establish a better basis for the next pandemic. Not alone.
“Many countries in the world have come to the same conclusion as Canada, which would like to have more domestic capacity. … Part of the challenge is getting [companies’] attention and attracting them to Canada, ”added Champagne.
Lessons from radioactive precipitation: Canada’s scarcity of biofabrication has highlighted the health risks of external dependency, as well as political risks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced criticism for Canada’s program to put doses on weapons. Trudeau predicted that anyone wishing to get vaccinated will be able to do so by September, although recently he said the deadline could end up being shorter. Only 1.76% of Canadians were fully vaccinated on March 27 and only about 10% had received a dose, says the Canadian Public Health Agency.
Last year, his government signed contracts totaling more than C $ 1 billion with eight pharmaceutical companies to align promising vaccine candidates from abroad. Canada, however, will not be able to produce its own Covid-19 vaccine until the end of 2021, at the very least.
Criticism focused on whether Canada could have produced its own vaccines, rather than relying on international drug shipments, some of which have been delayed.
Trudeau acknowledged that the pandemic caught the world off guard and that there is much to learn from it.
Canada’s proposal for the pharmaceutical industry: Champagne, who is primarily responsible for Trudeau in rebuilding vaccine manufacturing in Canada, said he is working on phones with pharmaceutical CEOs, trying to entice them to invest in the country.
The minister’s sales pitch includes the promotion of Canada’s research institutes, its highly qualified workforce and how it has the smallest population in 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, noting that Canada has trade agreements with Orla Pacific, Europe and North America.
The biggest obstacle? Champagne, who was foreign minister until Trudeau put him in his new position in January, says he is drawing the attention of companies in an overcrowded global field.
Future planning: Dr Alan Bernstein, a member of Canada’s Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force, said in an interview that the pandemic reinforced the need for governments to partner with the private sector.
For example, he said the United States government had succeeded in partnering with drug makers on a vaccine through the Trump administration’s accelerator, Operation Warp Speed. In contrast, he said the European Union decided it would be just a consumer.
“And see who is in a terrible state today,” 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 in the line.”
Bernstein argued that Canada is somewhere between the US and the EU because it has guaranteed doses of the vaccine and has started investing in its own production capacity for the future.
From bad to worse: He said successive governments over the past 25 years had failed to encourage pharmaceutical companies to stay in Canada.
“We never worried about that because, of course, we had supplies,” said Bernstein. “There was always a lot of that out there, so it was never seen as a problem until this pandemic came along.”
Pamela Fralick, who heads the Canadian pharmaceutical industry association, said conditions in the country have not been hospitable to the industry for decades. In recent years, she said that the Trudeau government’s expensive regulatory measures have made the situation worse.
Fralick, the president of Innovative Medicines Canada, said that before the pandemic relations between government and industry were in decline. Global pharmaceutical industry CEOs, who have the power to direct investments, have contacted the Trudeau government four times before the pandemic and “have in fact had no significant response,” she said.
“We couldn’t even get meetings with a minister like an association here in Canada,” said Fralick, adding that the pandemic has reduced tensions and led to “a fragile but positive change”.
Trudeau himself highlighted his direct conversations in recent months with leading global pharmaceutical executives, including Dr. Albert Bourla of Pfizer.
The global race: Bernstein said the pandemic has forced countries to find ways to strengthen the supply of vaccines, an environment that has created bidding wars with manufacturers.
“[They want] to ensure that, in the next pandemic, they are not caught with their pants down, “he said.” Every politician is highly motivated to fix this situation. “
Fralick said the pandemic did indeed launch an international contest.
“Almost every country in the world will be taken by surprise by this pandemic. … Canada is certainly not alone, ”she said, looking at only a handful of countries that produce vaccines. “We were taken by surprise.”
The effort so far: Last week, Champagne announced a federal investment of up to C $ 415 million for a new Sanofi flu vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto. The agreement offered a 50-50 split between governments and industry.
Fralick, who does not know the terms of the deal, said that “50 cents on the dollar” must have prevailed over the company’s concerns over 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 Montreal facility, which received C $ 126 million in financing.
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 expand biofabrication with domestic companies, including investments of up to C $ 173 million with Medicago and C $ 25.1 million with Precision NanoSystems Inc.
What is the next: Champagne says Canada is in negotiations with several players. “We are trying to advance as many of them 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 what comes next.”