top of page

Vaccine maker Novavax, despite concerns for its future, to maintain partnership with Ottawa

The federal government says it will continue its partnership with Novavax “at this time” despite the Maryland-based drugmaker’s worries it could go out of business within the year.

Novavax executives told investors on a conference call Tuesday there is significant uncertainty surrounding the company’s ability to continue funding operations as the market for COVID-19 vaccines changes.

In an effort to get COVID-19 vaccines made in Canada, the federal government announced in February 2021 a deal between the National Research Council’s (NRC) Biologics Manufacturing Centre (BMC) facility and Novavax to begin producing its vaccine in Montreal.

“At this time, there are no expected changes to the partnership between Novavax and the BMC,” said Laurie Bouchard, a spokesperson for Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, in an email to Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

Jim Kelly, Novavax’s chief financial officer, told investors on that call the company lost more than $600 million last year, and doesn’t expect to sell any new vaccine during the first three months of 2023. It also fears funding from the United States government could be cut.

3:27 Trudeau announces plan to produce COVID-19 vaccines in Canada

The company, which has more than $1.3 billion in cash in hand, is counting on its ability to develop and sell an updated COVID-19 vaccine next fall and is cutting costs, Kelly told investors.

When the government announced its partnership with Novavax in 2021, Champagne said the Montreal facility — which has the potential to produce around two million doses of vaccine a month — would be in a position to begin production at the end of 2021. However, the NRC said on its website in December that it is still working on the “technology transfer” required to produce the vaccine.

Story continues below advertisement

At the time, Canada committed to purchasing 52 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to buy up to 24 million more doses.

Novavax told Global News in an email that it remains committed to making its vaccine in Canada.

Trending Now

“Novavax continues to be committed to delivering our vaccine in Canada to support ongoing vaccination efforts while providing an alternative technology platform. Additionally, Novavax continues to make progress towards establishing local manufacturing capabilities in partnership with NRC/BMC, with manufacturing of process performance qualification batches expected to begin in early 2023,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added Novavax is not currently exploring a sale, but that it is focused on “three near-term priorities” to help the business this year: delivering a “competitive product” for the fall 2023 vaccination season; reducing spending rates, managing cash flow and evolving scaling and structure; and leveraging its technology platform, capabilities and asset portfolio to drive “additional value” beyond its vaccine.

1:59 Montreal facility to produce Novavax vaccine in the fight against COVID-19

Christine Jodoin, vice president of strategic initiatives at the NRC, also expressed the department’s commitment to work with Novavax.

Story continues below advertisement

“The BMC was built to be a contract manufacturing organization for Canada, with full end-to-end manufacturing capabilities and two individual production lines. In response to health crises, its public-good mandate means the facility can pivot to produce cell-based vaccines or other drugs to keep Canadians safe,” Jodoin said.

“We’re continuing to explore options with potential collaborators on producing vaccines and other biologics at the facility on its second production line.”

Novavax’s shot, a traditional protein-based vaccine, was pitched as an alternative to those from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech in the hope it would win over skeptics of newer mRNA technology. The federal government approved the vaccine in February 2022.

Throughout the pandemic, Canada has struggled to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine production. A deal with Chinese company CanSino Biologics — which could have seen the company’s vaccine manufactured at the Montreal facility — fell apart in the summer of 2020.

Last month, Mitsubishi Chemical announced that another company planning to make COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, Quebec-based Medicago Inc., would be shut down.

1:52 New Moderna vaccine manufacturing plant expected to be up and running by 2024: Champagne

Despite these setbacks, in April 2022, Moderna announced it would build a new manufacturing facility in Laval, Que.

Story continues below advertisement

Ottawa’s approach to acquiring COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic ensured Canadians had access to vaccines quickly, and reversed 40 years of decline in the country’s biomanufacturing sector, Bouchard said.

“So far, we have invested $1.8 billion towards 33 projects across the country and we continue to invest in the researchers, talent and innovation that will keep strengthening the Canadian life sciences ecosystem,” she said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.