Quebec-based COVID-19 vaccine maker Medicago to shut down

Medicago owner Mitsubishi Chemical Group said on Thursday that it was terminating "all its activities with Medicago," citing "significant changes" to the vaccine market.

Owner Mitsubishi Chemical Group blames decision on 'significant changes' to vaccine market

Arial view of factory with greenhouses
Quebec City-based vaccine maker Medicago Inc., is being shut down by owner Mitsubishi Chemical Group. (CBC)

Mitsubishi Chemical Group is shutting down Medicago Inc., a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer with headquarters in Quebec City.

A year ago, Medicago's plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, Covifenz, was approved by Health Canada, and it was touted as a homegrown shot against SARS-CoV-2.

Then in March, the World Health Organization decided not to accept Medicago's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, citing the company's ties to big tobacco. Marlboro cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International was once a shareholder of Medicago, but divested all of its shares in late 2022. 

Medicago Inc., which was founded in 1997, is now 100 per cent owned by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation. 

On Thursday, Medicago owner Mitsubishi Chemical Group issued a statement saying there have been "significant changes" to the vaccine market and, following a comprehensive analysis of the current global demand, the group decided to discontinue marketing Covifenz.

"Furthermore, the group judged that it was not viable to continue to invest in the commercialization of Medicago's development products and therefore chose to terminate all its activities with Medicago and proceed with an orderly dissolution of its business affairs and activities," the statement said.

The company's plant-based COVID-19 vaccine Covifenz was approved by Health Canada in 2022. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

According to the statement, Medicago's business activities and regular operating activities will be significantly reduced and refocused during the liquidation process. 

"Dissolution proceedings will take place in due course in accordance with local laws and regulations," it said.

Government invested $173M in Medicago

Canada's federal government invested $173 million into the company in 2020 to help the company develop the vaccine and its Quebec production facility. Ottawa also signed a deal to buy 20 million doses of the vaccine, with an option for 56 million more.

The process developed by Medicago uses the plant species nicotiana benthamiana, a close relative of tobacco plants that is used for pharmaceutical development largely because of the high number of viruses that can successfully infect it. 

When it was approved, studies of Covifenz found the two-dose shot's overall efficacy rate against all virus variants studied was 71 per cent, with a higher efficacy rate of 75 per cent against COVID-19 infections from the delta variant.

At the time, Health Canada said that "preliminary and exploratory data shows that Covifenz produces neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant."

On Twitter Thursday, Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand called the Medicago closure a "huge pity."

"My thoughts are with the families who learned some very sad news today," he said. "We have to roll up our sleeves to keep all this expertise in the field of health innovation in Quebec."


  • A previous version of this story stated that Philip Morris International owned shares in Medicago. In fact, the cigarette manufacturer divested all of its shares and the vaccine maker is now 100 per cent owned by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma.
    Feb 02, 2023 11:02 PM ET


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