Vaccine factory completion delayed to 2027: Sanofi

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Canadian Press

A massive new Toronto vaccine factory, tasked with making flu shots and preparing for the next pandemic, won’t start producing shots until 2027 — as much as a year later than the company initially envisioned when the plant was first announced.

The news came Thursday as the company, Sanofi, announced the opening of a separate vaccine factory in Toronto, which is billed as the largest in Canada.

The newly opened Sanofi facility is expected to significantly increase Canada’s domestic production of pediatric and adult vaccines for whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus.

During the pandemic, Canada was left flat-footed in the race to procure COVID-19 vaccines because there was no domestic capability to make them.

It meant Canada had to pay a premium to get in the queue for the first doses produced, and also led the federal government to invest heavily to quickly build up the biomanufacturing sector.

That included $415 million from Canada and another $55 million from the Ontario government to build a flu vaccine and pandemic preparedness plant at Sanofi’s Toronto campus that would be “operational” by 2026.

Matthieu Puyet, Toronto site head for Sanofi, said Thursday that facility will now be operational in 2027.

The plant construction will be completed by the initial deadline, the company explained in a statement Thursday, but will then undergo the regulatory rigour needed before it can start producing vaccines.

“The first commercial batches are expected in 2027,” Sanofi Canada’s head of communications said in the statement Thursday.

Between May 2020 and April 2022, Canada promised more than $1.3 billion for 12 new or expanded biomanufacturing plants to make vaccines and antibody treatments.

“During the pandemic, we promised that we would rebuild our capacity to produce life saving vaccines here in Canada,” Trudeau said.

“This is important to protect our health and to protect ourselves against future pandemics.”

The goal is to make sure Canada isn’t overly reliant on imported shots, which can result in the kind of delays and added costs Canada bore when COVID-19 vaccines came on the market.

Trudeau called the opening of the plant to make whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus shots a step in the right direction.

But many of the aggressive timelines the government set out during COVID-19 have not come to fruition.

Six months into the pandemic, in 2020, Trudeau told Canadians that the National Research Council would be able to start churning out millions of doses by the end of 2021.

Midway through 2024, the new Biologics Manufacturing Centre in Montreal is capable of making vaccines — but isn’t actually doing that.

The NRC has yet to sign a contract with a vaccine company that is looking for a partner to make its doses.

Discussions with Maryland-based Novavax have been ongoing for years, but there is no deal.

The company has faced significant delays in getting its COVID-19 vaccine to market, but saw some positive news earlier this month when it signed a licensing agreement with Sanofi that also injected some much needed financing.

An NRC spokeswoman said Thursday that the federal government is spending $17 million a year to cover operating costs at the vaccine production plant to maintain all its approvals to produce vaccines and ensure it is ready to do so when needed.

Moderna, the company behind one of the two most successful vaccines for COVID-19, is building an plant in Laval, Que. capable of producing further mRNA shots.

Construction is complete and the plant is now undergoing the testing and approval processes required before it can start making vaccines for sale.

A year ago, the company anticipated the first shots could be available by the end of this year, but the company said this past February that the first shots will be ready in the fall of 2025.

Canada did not finance the plant but did agree to buy the vaccines being made there.

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