The American pharmaceutical giant Moderna confirmed Friday that it has chosen the greater Montreal area as the location for its new biomanufacturing plant — the company's first outside of the United States.
The $180-million facility is expected to produce 100 million doses of mRNA vaccines per year.
"It's important to have manufacturing in Canada," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at McGill University, standing alongside Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel and Quebec Premier François Legault.
"We are strengthening our own ability to respond to viruses."
Details on its precise location are still pending. Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne, who was also present, said the company is still in the process of shopping around for potential sites.
Construction for the plant will begin sometime this year and is expected to be completed by 2024.
Legault said the plant will better prepare the province for future pandemics by reinforcing domestic supply chains and vaccine autonomy.
"We've had a hard two years," he said. "We've had to look for masks, medical gowns, and then vaccines. We have learned we are better served by ourselves."
Canada's biomanufacturing industry has declined, Legault acknowledged, but what remains is centred in Quebec and the Greater Toronto Area, both of whom were in the running for the plant.
"Today I'm pleased to announce that Quebec has won the battle for the Moderna facility."
The facility will also include a research centre that will work in collaboration with researchers from McGill University, who have signed a partnership with the company, and will have the capacity to produce mRNA vaccines against other respiratory viruses including the seasonal flu. Funding for that research is expected to come from Moderna.
"For the first time in the history of medicine, we have a molecule that is an information molecule and that changes everything. It's like going from Blockbuster to Netflix — it's a change of paradigm," said Bancel.
The company has signed a 10-year partnership with the federal government to operate the facility, he said.
WATCH | Justin Trudeau announces new Moderna plant in Quebec:
"The government of Canada was one of our first global partners in the very early days of COVID," Bancel added. "When I was raising money in 2020, we did not have the financial strength to get this industrial machine going, and Canada was one of the few countries here to help."
Details of the agreement between Moderna and the Quebec and Canadian governments weren't released. It's still unclear how much public money will go toward financing the $180-million facility.
Moderna signed an agreement of understanding with the federal government last August to bring such a factory to Canada. A federal government news release on Friday said the parties were still working out the details of the deal.
Moderna leading vaccine inequality, critics say
The advocacy group the Council of Canadians has condemned the partnership, saying it will only deepen global vaccine inequality.
"We're rolling out the red carpet for a company that has been an architect of a massively unequal distribution of vaccines doses around the world. So unequal that the World Health Organization has called it vaccine apartheid," said Nikolas Barry Shaw, the trade and privatization campaigner with the council.
Champagne told reporters Friday the government hopes Canada will retain preferential treatment for the vaccines produced at the facility.
"If Moderna is gonna be manufacturing vaccines in Canada, Canadians will be first in line."
Until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in low-income countries, the virus and new variants will continue to spread, Barry Shaw said.
"We think we should be spending public money on building public manufacturing capacity and sharing the technology," he said, adding countries at the World Trade Organization have been calling on giants like Moderna and Pfizer to lift the patents on vaccines.
WATCH | Moderna executive says local presence could mean smoother future vaccine rollouts: