Moderna to build vaccine production facility as part of new federal biomanufacturing strategy
August 11, 2021
The U.S.-based vaccine manufacturer Moderna Inc. will be building a plant in Canada after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian government this week.
The new agreement is part of a biomanufacturing strategy that the federal government announced at the end of July, which will see $2.2 billion from the 2021 budget go towards building biomanufacturing capacity.
The facility, which will produce mRNA vaccines, does not yet have a location in Canada. Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel told reporters on Tuesday that the new facility will employ around 200 to 300 people and will be ready to ship products by 2024.
The new facility will allow for domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines, Bancel said. It will be the company's first facility outside of the U.S. that it owns, although the company has contracted out production to facilities in Europe.
He told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the company plans to build similar plants in Europe and Asia, although he declined to say which countries were in talks.
François-Phillippe Champagne, the federal minister of innovation, science and industry, declined to provide financial details for the agreement, but he said that the Canadian government will be purchasing vaccines from the company.
"Not only will we have a manufacturing facility, a centre of excellence, but this will also position Canada as a global mRNA research and development hub," he told reporters on Tuesday. "Obviously, in exchange, the government of Canada has made commitments to buy a number of vaccines that will come out of that facility to ensure the resiliency of Canadians."
He said that Moderna will be producing 24 different types of vaccines at the facility and that Canada will continue purchasing vaccines after the end of the pandemic.
New biomanufacturing strategy pledges $2.2 billion across the country
The new federal biomanufacturing strategy consists of five "pillars": collaboration between government agencies, funding research facilities, growing existing areas of strength, building new facilities and developing regulations that better enable innovation.
One of the largest biomanufacturing construction projects so far has been the Novavax Biologics Manufacturing Centre on the National Research Council's Royalmount Avenue location in Montréal, which finished construction in June 2021. The federal government invested $126 million into the construction of the facility.
During the press conference on Tuesday, Bancel said that the Moderna facility is meant to provide a "secure and reliable source of innovation for the future."
"COVID-19 is just the first vaccine. We are working on a high-efficacy flu vaccine that is already in clinical studies," he said.
Life sciences organizations have been asking for a federal strategy for months. In the spring, the Canadian government's Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) made an investment of $415 million into a partnership with French pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Limited. After the announcement, a group of 19 health sciences and business associations launched an advertising campaign pushing for a national strategy.
New developments to counter decline in biomanufacturing
The new strategy is meant to counter a decline in biomanufacturing in the country. While there are foreign-owned plants in Canada, domestic manufacturers such as the University of Toronto's Connaught Laboratories were privatized and sold off in the 1970s and 1980s.
The decline over the last 40 years meant that the country has lacked the "large-scale and flexible" biomanufacturing capacity to quickly develop and produce vaccines, the Canadian government said in its announcement of the federal strategy.
Research Money previously spoke to health policy experts Leslie Boehm and Gregory Marchildon who have asked for a university-based system, which they argued could be called upon by the Canadian government in the case of a crisis.
Instead, the Canadian government is developing partnerships with foreign manufacturers to build facilities within the country's borders — an approach that increases the supply of vaccines but may not make the country truly self-sufficient, they said.