Canada will make vaccines at home if another pandemic hits: innovation minister
Federal, Ontario and Toronto governments announce $925M to open vaccine facility in Toronto
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne says "everyone wins" with Canada's new plan to ramp up vaccine manufacturing capacity at home.
The governments of Canada and Ontario announced Tuesday that $925 million in public-private funding would go towards a domestic vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto.
The federal government will spend $415 million on the partnership with the private company Sanofi Pasteur Ltd, Ontario's government will contribute $55 million to the project, and Sanofi will pitch in $455 million, as well as an extra $79 million a year to fund Canadian research and development.
The facility will primarily manufacture influenza vaccines, but have the ability to pivot to vaccines for coronaviruses and other diseases in the case of another pandemic. It won't be up and running until 2027.
Champagne spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the announcement. Here is part of their conversation.
Minister Champagne, as you can appreciate, it's hard to get excited about vaccine making that is six years away and doesn't pertain to our current crisis. So what's your pitch to Canadians?
If you look at the workers, I mean, this is providing good jobs. I mean, we're talking about a billion-dollar investment.
It's good news for the ecosystem because we want these types of anchor investments…. One of the missions I've been given is to rebuild the bio-manufacturing sector in Canada. And today you have an anchor investor with a flagship company who says of all the places they had to go, they chose Canada. And why? Because we have the talent. We have the people.
And finally, for Canadians, for all of us, I mean, we want to be more resilient.... If there's only one thing we learned is that we don't want to face anything like we had when we started with COVID, that we want to invest in different technologies, we want to invest in different families of vaccines.
You say in your press release that ... it will give us the capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to support the entire Canadian population if there is [another] pandemic. But this is a partnership with a private company, a multinational corporation. What guarantee is it that this vaccine will actually be available to Canadians if there is a pandemic?
Because contractually, first of all, it's for Canada and export markets.
But one of the good things is that Canada's a relatively small population in the G7 with 38 million people. So we made sure that first we can serve the domestic market. But also there's a commitment by the company … within six months of the World Health Organization identifying a new pandemic on influenza, [to] produce up to 76 million vaccines.
So for me, this is about resiliency. This is about making sure that we would be better prepared. And this is investing in the health and safety of Canadians.
And, listen, the Connaught Laboratories in Toronto have been iconic in Canada when it comes to the life science sector. It's giving the Connaught laboratories a new life.
This was a Crown Corporation, publicly owned for 70 years, an international gem full of medical breakthroughs, and then privatized by the Brian Mulroney government and sold to [the company that became] Sanofi. So if we want to reclaim this place … why doesn't Canada again ... have that publicly-owned capacity? Why are we partnering with a multinational corporation that has its own business plan, that has its own marketing needs?
Because the jewel is at the Connaught Laboratory. That's where the talent is. And like I say, talent attracts investment.
But I would say, Carol, if you look at the G7 countries, to attract these strategic investments, governments have to be part of the equation. Just look sort of our borders. Billions have been invested in trying to attract and expand domestic bio-manufacturing capabilities. I think we need to do the same thing in Canada.
What we've seen over this pandemic is that it's no guarantee if a vaccine is being manufactured in your country or your region that you're going to get it. … So what guarantee, again, do we have that we would get any of this if there were a pandemic?
The biggest thing we've seen, Carol, is a restriction on exports. I mean, talking to CEOs around the world in that sector, what they say is Canada is a safe bet. Stability, predictability — we're a country which has not put restrictions on exports.
One of the arguments I use is I say: Listen, we're the G7 country with the smallest population. So if you come to Canada, you'll be able to serve the domestic market easily and then you can use your facilities to export to the world.
Is that the guarantee? Are you saying that this company is committed to fulfilling its obligation [to] Canada before it will be able to export?
Yes, and that's why it's attractive.
And so is that a contractual obligation that the company has made?
It's a part of the arrangement we have with the company... We can serve quickly the Canadian market, and then you can go to export.
If we're investing a half-billion dollars in creating this partnership with Sanofi and then we have to buy the vaccine from them if we have need of it, then we pay twice, right? We pay this company to be here in Canada, and then we pay it in order to buy what it's making, even though it's contractually obliged to sell it to us.
I think you can say if they invest half a billion in research and development to build the ecosystem, to create jobs in Canada, and to build the resilience, I mean, you have to compare that with other G7 countries.
We're fighting with other jurisdictions. Let's be clear. These companies can easily go to the United States. They can easily go in this case in France or other jurisdictions. That's why I'm saying you've seen in G7 countries, the government has to be part of the equation. That's why we're there with the government of Ontario. That's where we're there with the city.
Because we know that this is providing jobs for the decades to come. And at a time when we want to restart jobs and growth in the high innovation sector, that's the type of investment that we want.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.