The dream of seeing a Quebec vaccine against COVID-19 on the market was extinguished Thursday evening when the parent company of the Quebec biopharmaceutical company Medicago announced that it would end all activities of its subsidiary.
Mitsubishi Chemical Group explains that it made this decision “in view of the significant changes that have occurred in the vaccine scene against COVID-19 since the authorization of Covifenz [le vaccin contre la COVID-19 conçu par Medicago] “.
Following a comprehensive analysis of the current global demand, the economic context for COVID-19 vaccines and the challenges Medicago faces in its transition to commercial production, the group has decided not to continue marketing Covifenz.
Excerpt from Mitsubishi Chemical Group press release
Last February, Health Canada approved the Covifenz vaccine, the first in the world to be produced from plants. A month later, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) rejected the vaccine because of Medicago’s ties to the tobacco industry.
The tobacco company Philip Morris, which was a minority shareholder in Medicago with a 21% stake, subsequently sold its shares.
However, the federal government had signed a contract to buy up to 76 million doses with vaccine donation projects for low-income countries, but these were not allowed without WHO approval.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said they were disappointed with Mitsubishi Chemicals’ decision.
Mr. Champagne’s press officer, Laurie Bouchard, highlighted Medicago’s contribution to the life sciences sector through its plant-based vaccine.
“We expect the cooperation of all parties involved to ensure that Canadian interests are protected in accordance with legal and contractual obligations. [de Medicago] to the Government of Canada,” she said.
“And we will continue to ensure that we have sufficient domestic vaccine production capacity to protect against infectious disease threats and future pandemics. »
Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, whose riding is located in Quebec City, said he would “work with the Government of Quebec and the region’s economic leaders, particularly those in the life sciences”, to also “protect workers and identify options for the future”.
The office of the Minister of Economy, Innovation and Energy of Quebec, Pierre Fitzgibbon, indicated for its part that it would work together with Ottawa and Mitsubishi Chemical Group in order to find a buyer for the facilities of Medicago.
The 74.5 million loan granted to the company in 2015 by Quebec for the construction of a 245 million complex on avenue D’Estimauville, a project announced in 2018 whose inauguration was still awaited, will be reimbursed , said Mr. Fitzgibbon’s press secretary, Mathieu St-Amand.
“The technology developed by Medicago is important for the life sciences sector and we will work with our partners to keep the expertise and the workers in Quebec,” he added.
miss the boat
Earlier this month, a source in the office of the Minister of Health claimed that Medicago had missed the boat for its COVID-19 vaccine with the arrival of new variants.
“The epidemiological situation and the availability of bivalent vaccines have demonstrated the need for Medicago to review its initial plan as well as its global strategy”, had also declared to the daily. The sun Medicago President and CEO Toshifumi Tada last November.
The company then told The Press that it was working on a new strategy and that it was still evaluating the relevance of submitting a new application for registration with the WHO.
Victim of delays
Ultimately, Medicago will have been the victim of delays in the delivery and marketing of its vaccine when most of its activities were oriented in this direction, estimates the CEO of the Institute for the governance of private and public organizations, François Dauphin.
The next step for the Quebec company will be to sell its remaining assets, including its Quebec factory, facilities that could be of interest to some other Canadian pharmaceutical companies, he explains.
“There’s still a little sadness attached to that because it wasn’t a bad thing to have an ability [de production de vaccins] on Canadian soil, especially when we saw the difficulties in terms of supply” during the pandemic, underlines François Dauphin.
Founded in 1999, Medicago employed more than 600 people in its facilities in Quebec, Durham (in North Carolina) and Toronto, could we read on its website Thursday evening.