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The government missed a chance last spring to help Canadian vaccines move fast

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February 22, 2021 • • 6 days ago • • Read for 4 minutes • • 51 Comments Owen Sound native John Lewis, CEO of Entos Pharmaceuticals, walks to the lab.Owen Sound native John Lewis, CEO of Entos Pharmaceuticals, walks to the lab. Photo by Kelly Wolfert, Infield Fly Productions /.Postmedia

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OTTAWA – Two vaccine developers in Canada say a lack of federal funding at the start of the pandemic prevented domestic COVID-19 vaccines from being deployed as quickly as international versions.

Almost 1.1 million Canadians have now received a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

With Pfizer-BioNTech shipments of over 400,000 doses per week, Canadian provinces and territories have vaccinated more than 170,000 people since Friday. On Saturday, Canada had the best day since the vaccination campaign began with 49,707 people vaccinated.

By comparison, the UK vaccinates more than 400,000 people a day, and the United States averaged over 1.7 million injections a day last week. Germany vaccinated around 140,000 people on Sunday.

All three countries invested heavily in the development of domestic vaccines. The ability to make the vaccines at home has helped them deliver vaccines much faster.


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John Lewis, the CEO of Entos Pharmaceuticals in Alberta, said Canada’s investments are much more shy.

“I think it is extremely clear that when you look at success around the globe, the crucial and upfront funding of multiple vaccine candidates to the end was key to their success and speed,” he told the Ministry of Health committee Monday .

By comparison, Lewis said Canada “took a careful, risk-averse, committee-based decision-making approach that resulted in a relatively small amount of scatter funding for companies in Canada to develop domestic vaccines.”

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Canada buys at least 238 million doses of seven different vaccines, but only one is from a Canadian company – Medicago – and at least none are initially made in Canada. Medicago is the only one to have received direct Canadian clinical trial support.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, a member of the federal COVID-19 vaccine task force and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, told the committee that the task force should find both the best vaccine candidates available as well as some Canadian vaccines. made to support.

Bernstein said the task force looked at 24 Canadian vaccine proposals, but only three had made enough progress to warrant significant investments.

Medicago received $ 173 million from Canada’s Strategic Innovation Fund in October, Precision Nanosystems received $ 18 million, and Variation Biotechnologies received $ 56 million in August. Only Medicago currently has a vaccine in clinical trials.


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Bernstein said most of the others were just too early in the process, though six more were recommended for some money from the National Research Council.

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These six, including Entos, received up to $ 5 million each from the NRC in October.

The Entos vaccine sought help to move forward back in March and is close to entering Phase 1 trials, almost a year later.

“I think if we got upfront funding at the beginning … we would be well into phase 3 of licensing now,” said Lewis.

Dr. Gary Kobinger, a microbiologist at Laval University in Quebec City, was part of Canadian teams that helped develop vaccines against Ebola and Zika. He told the committee that his nonprofit had a vaccine with excellent early lab results last February, but it also stalled because “we couldn’t find funding.”

He said the first time he applied for funding, he was told that the vaccine did not have enough preliminary data to proceed. Kobinger said they returned soon after with preliminary data competing with that of either of the two mRNA vaccines currently used in Canada.

“We were told we were late because the mRNA vaccines are working and no other vaccines are needed,” said Kobinger.

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Lewis said it takes at least $ 350-600 million to get a single vaccine through multiple phases of clinical trials and into approval.

Canada allocated $ 600 million over a two-year period last April to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Part of it went to Medicago, VBI and Precision.


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Operation Warp Speed ​​in the US allocated $ 10 billion to enforce vaccines in May, on top of hundreds of millions already invested in companies like Johnson and Johnson and Moderna to bring their vaccines into trials. The budget has since grown to $ 18 billion.

The UK set up a Vaccines Task Force in May that has invested more than $ 500 in vaccine research and then more than $ 116 million in AstraZeneca vaccine implementation. The UK has also moved mountains to manufacture on UK soil, speed up some products and successfully negotiate with vaccine manufacturers to use UK facilities.

Germany invested $ 445 million in BioNTech, a German company that worked with Pfizer to bring BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine to commercial use. Germany invested nearly $ 300 million in another German company, CureVac, whose vaccine is already in the phase 3 study.

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