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Alberta government seeking proposals to develop, manufacture COVID-19 vaccines at home

The new initiative to develop vaccines in Alberta was announced Monday. Online submissions from interested organizations and companies will be accepted until midnight on March 21.

Online submissions will be open until midnight on March 21

Alberta is looking to find projects around the province that will increase Alberta's vaccine capacity. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The Alberta government is seeking proposals on how to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccine in the province.

The new initiative was announced on Monday. Online submissions from interested organizations and companies will be accepted until midnight on March 21.

Doug Schweitzer, Alberta's minister of jobs, economy and innovation, said the province needs to ensure it can secure a domestic supply of vaccine as new COVID-19 variants emerge. Schweitzer said Monday he believes Canada and Alberta must become more self-reliant when it comes to accessing critical medical supplies like vaccines.

The province is already aware of at least five potential projects in Alberta that could be built out to improve their vaccine supply, Schweitzer said.

He cited the work of Providence Therapeutics, a biotechnology company in Calgary, and the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta as examples of organizations the province could support with the new initiative.

"We think we know what the lay of the land is, but you have to do these open processes to make sure you get the best possible proposals coming in," Schweitzer said.

Alberta has been investing in vaccine development for more than a decade, Schweitzer said. The efforts have been accelerated in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building vaccine capacity also acts as an insurance policy for Alberta in the long run, Schweitzer said, to help the province respond to COVID-19 variants or other diseases in the future.

The application form asks organizations and companies submitting proposals to describe an overview of the project with a timeframe and an explanation of where they currently are in developing this project.

The government will assess the bids and their expected costs. There is potential for Alberta to collaborate with Ottawa or ask bidding organizations to work together if there is overlap in their work, Schweitzer said.

The Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation is already developing a strategy to boost the growth of the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector, which includes developing pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity.

A total of 599 cases of COVID-19 variants with a higher infection rate have already been reported in Alberta.

As of Saturday, more than 290,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Alberta and nearly 91,000 people had been fully immunized with two doses.

In February, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province would pursue additional domestic vaccine production, arguing the province can't count on international vaccine supply during the pandemic.

At a news conference on Monday, Kenney said there's no fixed budget on the new initiative.

If one or more bid is seen as viable, the province is interested in large-scale orders or other forms of support for these projects, he said.

"We want to go through a proper process. We're not just going to arbitrarily pick projects to back. We want to make sure that they are viable, that they can scale up and that they've got the sources supplies ready to roll," Kenney said.

He added there's a long-term interest in Alberta having improved vaccine production capacity to deal with new vaccines that address COVID-19 variants, booster shots and to prepare for other pandemics in the future.

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