Alberta putting $81.5M toward goal of making its own pharmaceuticals, therapeutics
In chasing its ambitions to make vaccines and other pharmaceuticals and therapeutic products within its boundaries, Alberta is committing more than $80 million to its life sciences industry.
The dollars were announced in the spring, when Jason Kenney's government began soliciting proposals related to vaccine development and manufacturing.
Revealing the successful applicants Wednesday -- researchers at the University Alberta, as well as three private companies -- Premier Jason Kenney said "vaccine nationalism" seen earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the significance of biosecurity.
"Those jurisdictions assured themselves first access to available vaccines early on, so we were not the first in the queue. And that, frankly, cost lives," he told reporters, speaking at the U of A's Li Ka Shing Centre of Health Research Innovation.
"Moreover, I think with the global constraints on supply chains right across the world and every sector of the economy, I think there's a renewed appreciation of the need for us to onshore production of essential products."
The U of A's Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology will receive the largest chunk of the provincial government cash: $55.1 million.
Dr. Matthias Götte, who helped write the grant application, said some of the money will be put toward upgrading the U of A's Biosafety Level 3 lab and the Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing facility.
Another portion will be dedicated to building a facility for cryogenic electron microscopy. Essentially a microscope, the technology allows researchers to "zoom into the virus" and look at its structures that could potentially be targeted by a vaccine or therapy, Götte explained.
"This is cutting-edge technology. It is vital. It is extremely important that we have this technology here in Alberta," he said. "The entire structural biology, worldwide, will move into this direction."
He said he expects his teams to deliver results very soon from work they started two years ago, and by leveraging that and the provincial investment, to be able to raise more funding from Ottawa or institutions like the National Institutes of Health Informatics.
Alberta's 2021 budget renewed $20 million over four years for the Li Ka Shing institute, whose director was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2020 for his part in the discovery of the hepatitis C virus in 1989, for which the researchers have since moved on to making a vaccine.
INVESTMENT IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY
The rest of the money represents 10 per cent of project funding for three other proposals, contingent on the applicants also securing money from the federal government.
A total of $15.5 million will be provided to Entos Pharmaceuticals to establish a commercial manufacturing facility in Edmonton. The company builds genetic medicines with its own drug delivery system, with which it developed a COVID-19 vaccine that is entering second-phase clinical trials.
"It's one thing to discover and develop an innovative therapy, but it's another thing entirely to manufacture it at scale necessary both for late-stage clinical trials and ultimately for treatments that you or I or anyone of our family can take," CEO and co-founder Dr. John Lewis told media.
"So that's why Entos is so grateful for this announcement… The committed funding when paired with federal and private support will enable us to create a world-class facility that can produce not only COVID vaccines, but also future genetic medicines."
The company also recently signed an agreement to create candidate products for BioMarin Pharmaceuticals.
Another $5.6 million will go to Edmonton-based Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation to build a research, commercialization and manufacturing cluster, supporting growth of the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative.
Calgary's Northern RNA will receive $5 million to expand its capacity. The company, less than a year old, specializes in the manufacturing of essential raw materials needed for manufacturing messenger RNA. Co-founder and president Brad Stevens said his company can address one supply bottleneck by manufacturing lipids.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT 'RECEPTIVE'
Although the provincial funding to the private companies is dependent on federal financial support, both Kenney and the CEOs expressed confidence they'd see Ottawa come through.
Kenney called the money from the Alberta government a way to "prime the pump, hopefully to attract that federal funding and we will be calling on the federal government to do just that."
"They are receptive, but no final decisions have yet been made."
"This funding sends a very, very critical message to federal partners that Alberta really sees its role in the supply chain," Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation CEO Andrew MacIsaac added.
"A lot of the investments in vaccine production around the world have come from the federal level, working in conjunction with the regional areas. So I think that this is a great first step and….will lead to tremendous benefits to the province."
The federal government has committed $2.2 billion to supporting biomanufacturing.
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