A Manitoba-backed company that's attempting to develop a COVID-19 vaccine says it continues to pursue plans to produce the product in Canada despite tepid support from the federal government.

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A Manitoba-backed company that's attempting to develop a COVID-19 vaccine says it continues to pursue plans to produce the product in Canada despite tepid support from the federal government.

On Wednesday, Providence Therapeutics of Calgary announced "very favourable" results from Phase 1 clinical trials for its messenger RNA vaccine.

Premier, vaccine developer retreat after deal falls through

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES						</p>																	<p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.						</p>
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

Posted: 4:00 AM May. 5, 2021

NEITHER Premier Brian Pallister nor Providence Therapeutics would comment on the status of Manitoba’s deal with the Calgary company to develop a COVID-19 vaccine since its CEO suddenly announced last week that he’s leaving Canada.

While a provincial spokesman assured Manitoba taxpayers on Friday they won’t be on the hook for the $7.2-million non-refundable deposit the government was to give the vaccine developer, neither the premier nor CEO Brad Sorenson responded to interview requests this week.

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"Within the class of mRNA vaccines… (which include the Pfizer and Moderna products) our data compares very favourably," Providence chief executive officer Brad Sorenson said in an interview.

He maintained that his company remains committed to producing the vaccine in Canada.

Sorenson called a recent media report quoting him as saying that Providence was tired of getting "the runaround" from Ottawa and was ready to move the company overseas "a bit sensationalized."

"We have the ability to produce 200 million doses in Canada a year between our partners, Northern RNA in Calgary and the Emergent Biosolutions in Winnipeg," he said. "And we’re going to produce those vaccines.

"Whether those vaccines are used by Canadians or whether they’re used somewhere else in the world, we’re going to make them because the world needs them. We’re not going to shut down production in the middle of a pandemic."

Once the COVID-19 crisis is over, however, is another matter, Sorenson said, adding he was quoted correctly that the company is "evaluating its strategic options outside of Canada right now."

Manitoba has promised to making a non-refundable payment of $7.2 million to Providence, but the money won't be paid until a final contract is signed.

Providence Therapeutics is working with Emergent BioSolutions to handle the finish and filling stages of vaccine production from Emergent's Winnipeg location. (Jess Boily / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Providence Therapeutics is working with Emergent BioSolutions to handle the finish and filling stages of vaccine production from Emergent's Winnipeg location. (Jess Boily / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Sorenson said he won't sign a deal until he's "entirely confident" his vaccine will receive regulatory approval in Canada.

"If the deal gets signed, it will likely get signed in the next two or three weeks," he said of the Manitoba contract.

The province has arranged to receive two million doses of vaccine from Providence; its $7.2-million commitment represents a 20 per cent down payment on the value of the contract.

If Health Canada doesn't approve the vaccine, the company would not be able to supply Manitoba or any other Canadian jurisdiction.

Ottawa injects uncertainty into support for Winnipeg vaccine facility

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Posted: 5:06 PM Mar. 15, 2021

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is sending mixed messages on whether it wants to shore up COVID-19 vaccine production in Winnipeg.

The U.S. firm Emergent BioSolutions runs a facility near the University of Manitoba campus, and signed a contract late last year to produce a vaccine developed by Calgary-based Providence Therapeutics, which has financial support form the Pallister government but is still pending approval.

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However, Sorenson said he's confident in being able to obtain regulatory approval and buyers outside of Canada in any case. He said he's already getting numerous inquiries about the vaccine from around the world.

He said he has been disappointed his company has not received more government support for his initiative in Canada, particularly from the federal government.

The office of federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said more than a month ago that Ottawa had invested $10 million to help Providence Therapeutics with its early trials, although Sorenson said Wednesday he's received less than $5 million from Ottawa to date.

The federal government said it has only placed orders for vaccine candidates that a scientific panel has deemed most likely to be effective and timely enough to immunize Canadians.

"If the deal gets signed, it will likely get signed in the next two or three weeks." ‐ Brad Sorenson, chief executive officer at Providence Therapeutics

Meanwhile, Sorenson said he asked the federal government two months ago for 500 doses of Pfizer vaccine for a Phase 2 comparative trial that is set to begin in June. He has yet to receive an answer.

He said the trial will go ahead because he can obtain back-up supplies in a pinch.

Unless Health Canada agrees to an accelerated approval process — something it has yet to commit to — a new Providence vaccine will not be available until early 2022.

The company is confident demand will remain strong globally, and it's also likely that further booster shots will be required in the future in Canada even after the population is fully vaccinated.

In a statement Wednesday, the Pallister government repeated its position that Canada needs a strong, secure domestic vaccine research and manufacturing sector to win the fight against COVID-19.

"That is why Manitoba took the proactive step of investing in a made-in-Canada COVID vaccine research and manufacturing initiative. Manitoba remains in regular discussions with domestic vaccine suppliers and researchers on potential opportunities for Canadians and Manitobans," the province said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.