Alberta will pursue further domestic vaccine production, Kenney says
Manitoba announces deal to buy vaccine by Calgary-based biotechnology company
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday the province would pursue additional domestic production of vaccines after Manitoba made a deal to buy two million doses of a Calgary-made COVID-19 vaccine.
Earlier Thursday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced the province had made a deal to buy the doses from the Calgary-based biotechnology company Providence Therapeutics, which has just started human clinical trials.
"It would be so important for us to have a domestic pharmaceutical industry here, and we are very keen on doing whatever we can to make that happen," Kenney said during a news conference.
"It's obvious that we can't count on international vaccine supply during COVID-19 given the vaccine nationalism and the failure of the federal government to get strong enough contracts to access supply."
Providence's product is an mRNA vaccine similar to Moderna shots, requiring two doses. The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary with 12,000 square feet of lab space in order to mass produce the product.
Brad Sorenson, CEO of Providence, said the company is about halfway through its Phase 1 trial and expects to roll into Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials beginning in May.
"If everything goes smoothly, we will be applying to Health Canada for emergency authorization in the fall," Sorenson said. "We're well underway and looking forward to delivering a vaccine to Canadians this year."
Alberta seeking interprovincial task force
With Providence's timeline in mind, Kenney said Alberta would seek to establish an "interprovincial task force on domestic vaccine supply," adding he had already spoken to a number of fellow premiers on that front.
"[Sorenson] tells me they would only be able to establish a domestic production facility in Canada if they got orders for 50 million doses," Kenney said. "So an order of that scale would obviously require co-operation across the country."
Manitoba's order of two million doses nor a potential order from Alberta would satisfy that number, Kenney said.
"So bottom line is, we are absolutely pursuing domestic production and potential supply, because we apparently cannot count reliably on the federal program to procure vaccine doses from around the world," he said.
WATCH | Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says vaccine deal will be 'insurance' for immunizations:
Sorenson said he expected there would be other deals with provinces following shortly.
"We have up to 50 million doses capacity that we can produce in 2021. We have just committed two million to that," he said.
"Now we're in the process of committing the rest of that capacity. Whatever we get from the Canadian provinces in the next week, we're going to lock that down, and then we're going to start taking orders outside of Canada."
Questions still remain surrounding deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that six million doses will be delivered by the end of March.
"Because of global production challenges there's been a few weeks of slightly fewer vaccines coming in," Trudeau said Thursday.
"But we're approaching something that we're calling 'the big lift,' which is the phase where we go from vaccine scarcity, as we are right now, to receiving millions upon millions, even tens of millions of vaccines into the spring."
WATCH | Trudeau promises a large increase in COVID vaccine shipments in the coming weeks:
Canada has said it expects all residents who want to be vaccinated will be immunized by the end of September.
Sorenson said even should those targets be met, Providence's product would still have value.
"If everyone has a vaccine in the fall, there's still going to be a worldwide demand," he said. "We will be able to resell these vaccines outside of Canada, and these provinces should be able to recoup their costs."
He characterized the chance that Providence's vaccine will not be approved as "very small," adding that each province's deposit is non-refundable as it will be used to make the vaccines.
"We're in a pandemic right now, and you've got to assume some risk, and you've got to do what's best for the people in Canada," Sorenson said.
"But all our pre-clinical data is comparable to Moderna and [Pfizer-BioNTech] … we're not beating a new trail."
As of Thursday, more than 135,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Alberta and approximately 42,000 Albertans have been fully immunized with a double dose.
With files from Helen Pike and CBC Manitoba