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Alberta COVID-19 vaccine producers nearing approvals, urge use of domestic doses, boosters

A COVID-19 vaccine producer that’s based in Alberta says it will be ready to provide millions of doses and booster shots once necessary approvals have been granted.

Calgary-based Providence Therapeutics said it has wrapped up Stage 1 clinical trials and will be headed to Stage 2 by June.

CEO Brad Sorenson said with the necessary facility upgrades, the company can scale up significantly and manufacture up to 200-million doses if required.

“We’re anticipating receiving approval in Q1 of 2022, and we will have tens of millions of doses ready to go when that approval arrives,” he said. “As soon as that approval happens, we’re going to be able to distribute those doses.”

Sorenson said the company is speaking to both provincial and federal government officials about procurement of its product, however, no formal contracts have been signed. He said the company is currently in negotiations for sub-licensing in other countries and for providing 2022 booster doses.

“From a licensing perspective, we’re talking to countries that have the capacity to do this, so that would include countries like India, China… We’ve received calls from a couple of European… countries,” he said.

“The question is whether Canada wants those doses or whether we should sell them to other countries that are knocking on our door right now.”

Sorenson recently spoke to the House of Commons’ standing committee on international trade, seeking a commitment from the government for its vaccines.

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“What I communicated to the government of Canada is that… if the government of Canada wants us to make 30-million doses, we would need effectively $4 a dose up front in order to cover the costs — the material costs that we need to do in advance,” he said. “If we’re doing 30-million doses, that would be $120 million (required up front).

“It’s whatever their needs are. We’re happy to meet those needs. But that gives you the scope.

“We said, ‘What do you guys need? And how much capacity do you want us to hold back for Canada?’ Because we’re going to sell that capacity to other countries if Canada doesn’t want it.”

Throughout the pandemic, vaccine procurement has been a major issue. Canada’s lack of supports for domestic vaccine manufacturing forced it to rely on vaccines from other countries, and as other countries received priority, that meant delays for Canada.

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With COVID-19 variants continuing to grip the nation, companies like Edmonton-based Entos Pharmaceuticals are also looking at delivery of its vaccine, and preparing for booster shots required in the future.

“I think hindsight is 2020,” said John Lewis, the company’s CEO. “I think if we look at countries that have successfully vaccinated their populations, did invest early and substantially in vaccine development and manufacturing, I think Canada could be a lot farther ahead if we’d maybe made some more substantial investments.

“It’s becoming very apparent that the pandemic isn’t going to go away quickly, especially with these emerging variants that can spread more easily and are potentially more deadly. We may be looking at yearly boosters to protect against the variants that emerge.

“With the timeline we have, if everything goes well, we should be ready to file for emergency-use authorization by the end of the year.”

Vaccine manufacturing is incredibly expensive and requires massive capital. According to Lewis, from discovery to the end of Phase 3, the cost is in the range of $350 million to $450 million.

Lewis, who is also a University of Alberta researcher, said Entos has received funding from the National Research Council and through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the funding will carry them through Phase 2. They will require more money as they move ahead to Phase 3.

Earlier this year, the Alberta government called on proposals from companies interested in vaccine development and manufacturing as officials sought to strengthen domestic vaccine manufacturing supply.

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Both Entos and Providence have applied to the Alberta government for funding. They are among more than a dozen other organizations — both domestic and international — to have done so, according to Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer.

“We received 17 proposals from companies,” he said.

“We’re currently conducting due diligence. Longer term, we want to make sure we look at this in the same way that you would at national security.”

No specific dollar amount has been attached to the program as officials said they’re “waiting to see what the proposals are and what is needed.” They added that there are $1.2 billion in contingencies in the budget for health and another $500 million for economic contingencies that could be used as well.

“As far as timing goes, right now, we’re conducting that due diligence rapidly,” Schweitzer said Thursday.

“We want to make sure that we’re ready if booster shots are needed in the future. We want to make sure that we’re ready to move as quickly as we can.”

A proposal report to cabinet is expected sometime by summer and depending on the proposals selected, the government will move to the next step.

That timeline is less than ideal, according to Sorenson, who is hoping the Alberta government can push up the date.

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“We’ve put in (a) proposal into the Alberta government,” he said. “I hope that there’s some way that they can… accelerate that.

“That’s a very long time while we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”

Providence Therapeutics has signed on to a deal with Manitoba to provide two-million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

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