Charlottetown-based BioVectra, with assistance from the federal and provincial governments, is expanding to manufacture mRNA vaccines.
Federal Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne was in Charlottetown Thursday morning to make the announcement.
BioVectra is receiving $39.8 million from the federal government's Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy to assist with the expansion. The province is adding another $10 million toward the $79.6 million project.
BioVectra CEO Oliver Technow told CBC News that with 50 years of experience BioVectra is well positioned for this expansion.
"We are not newcomers to the global biomanufacturing scene, so it's a natural evolution for us to take a bigger responsibility to produce domestic vaccines," said Technow.
The planned expansion will be able to produce up to 160 million doses of a mRNA vaccine per year. It will create 125 new jobs at BioVectra, split between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, with most of those jobs in Charlottetown. The development and production of plasmid DNA, the key ingredient to manufacture mRNA therapeutics and vaccines, will happen at the company's Windsor, N.S., plant.
The expansion will include a new 30,000 square foot building in Charlottetown. Construction will begin in March, with production planned to start about a year later. The Charlottetown plant will have the capacity to package up to 70 million doses a year so they are ready for health-care workers. Any further production would go to other facilities for final packaging.
"This will make sure Canada is prepared for future pandemics and other health emergencies," said Champagne.
"BioVectra's plan to establish a state-of-the-art vaccine facility here in Prince Edward Island, and upgrade their existing facilities in Nova Scotia, is a key move that supports our strategy to grow a strong, competitive domestic life sciences sector."
Champagne announced in August that Canada had signed a memorandum of understanding with Moderna to build an mRNA manufacturing plant in Canada within two years. It would be Moderna's first foreign operation. It was unclear from the news release if the BioVectra announcement was connected with that MOU.
Without vaccine manufacturing facilities of its own, Canada has had to rely on foreign sources for vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant vaccines arrived in Canada some weeks later than they did in countries with their own manufacturing capacity.
The announcement is not only a major development for Canada, it is a major shift for BioVectra. Currently the company's business is contract development and manufacturing, that is, as a supplier of synthetic small molecules and bioreagents to other pharmaceutical companies, not as a producer of consumer-ready products itself.