Ugo Giguere, The Canadian Press
LAVAL — The American pharmaceutical giant Moderna wants to push messenger RNA vaccine technology further by developing new preventive treatments that can fight against various respiratory infections and other diseases such as cancer. Vaccines of the future that could well be created and manufactured in the future Laval factory.
At a press conference to inaugurate the construction site of the future plant in the Cité de la biotech, in Laval, the president of Moderna Therapeutics, Dr. Stephen Hoge, confirmed that in the event of a new pandemic, we could produce up to ‘to 100 million doses per year.
According to Dr. Hoge, this allows Canada not only to ensure its own protection, but also to become a world leader that can help other countries.
But it is the research and development aspect that most motivates Dr. Hoge. He pointed out that eight other drugs are currently being studied in Canada by teams at Moderna and through collaborations with researchers from McGill University and the University of Toronto.
Moderna Canada’s president and CEO, Patricia Gauthier, said the company is making very rapid progress in the field of infectious diseases such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and cytomegalovirus because the technology has proven its effectiveness.
At the same time, we want to tackle rare diseases and three clinical studies are currently being tested in the country, according to the CEO of Moderna Canada. As soon as satisfactory results are demonstrated, the company intends to “go very hollow in this line,” she promised.
Other avenues for the future are those of cancers and autoimmune diseases. “Two years ago, we didn’t even have a commercial product and now we have 48 programs in development,” notes Ms. Gauthier.
Moderna’s Canadian headquarters are in Toronto, but a few employees are already at work in the Montreal area, the CEO confirmed. The team quickly grew from five to around thirty people and recruitment is in full swing. In particular, engineers, experts in quality assurance and quality control, and manpower for the production of messenger RNA are sought.
In addition, a partnership with McGill University will enable biotechnology students to be trained at Moderna’s facilities in Norwood, Massachusetts, before returning to work at the future Laval plant. It is predicted that around 75 people could be assigned to production once the plant is in operation in 2024.
Trudeau visits the site
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Laval on Monday to visit the construction site of the Moderna vaccine plant in the Cité de la biotech.
Accompanied by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, as well as members of the management of Moderna, Mr. Trudeau was able to observe the first developments of the land located on Armand-Frappier Boulevard. Heavy machinery operators were busy digging the ground and preparing to lay the foundations before the onset of winter.
“Canada, with this agreement with Moderna, is in the process of ensuring the supply of vaccines for Canadians for decades to come,” said Mr. Trudeau at a press conference on the site.
The American pharmaceutical giant has chosen Laval to set up its new mRNA vaccine manufacturing plant in Canada. The news was first announced last April, then Laval’s choice was confirmed in August. The land that will house the new plant, estimated at $180 million, was purchased from the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS).
No money from the federal government would have been invested in the project to build the plant, but Ottawa has committed to buying an unspecified quantity of vaccines produced in Laval each year.
According to the CEO of Moderna Canada, Patricia Gauthier, the federal government will be able to identify each year its needs to protect the population and the company will provide it with the appropriate products according to the range of its offer.
“Obviously we won’t choose the time of the next pandemic, if ever there is one, but if there’s one thing we can choose, it’s to be better prepared and to be more resilient and that’s exactly what we’re doing today,” said Minister Champagne.
He also looked forward to seeing an entire ecosystem of biomedical research grow as a cluster around the Moderna plant over the next few years. Beyond a building, it is above all “talent” that will be built in the Cité de la biotech de Laval, he praised.