Good morning, everyone. I now call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 15 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website, and the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I'd like to outline a few rules to follow. Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French.
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I remind you that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. When you are not speaking, we ask that your microphone be on mute. With regard to the speakers list, the committee clerk and I will do our best to maintain the order of speaking for all members.
As is my normal practice, I will hold up this yellow card when you have 30 seconds remaining in your intervention, and I will hold up the red card when your time for questions is up. Please keep an eye on the card and respect the time limit so that everyone has a chance to ask their questions.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, the committee is meeting today to continue its study on the domestic manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccine.
I'd like to now welcome our witnesses. With us today we have Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, and François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. We have, from the Department of Public Works and Government Services, Mr. Bill Matthews, deputy minister; from the Department of Industry, Simon Kennedy, deputy minister; and from the National Research Council of Canada, Mitch Davies, president.
I'm getting a note from the clerk that we need to pause for one moment. I think we're having some sound issues in the room. I will suspend for one moment.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
How is everyone doing today? It's great to be here with you.
I want to thank you for inviting me to be here with you this morning. Before we start, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that I'm meeting you from the territory of many first nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabek, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.
I would also like to thank everyone who continues to work hard behind the scenes to make these virtual meetings possible. Thanks especially to our interpreters and our translators for playing such an outstanding role in the ability of Canadians to understand and process this information.
Joining me today is my deputy minister, Bill Matthews. Thank you, Bill, for being here.
I want to speak first about the PSPC response to the pandemic. In the face of intense pandemic fatigue and strain, Canadians have pulled together to curb the spread of the virus. I know I speak for all parliamentarians, particularly those of us in this room today, when I say that we wish to thank the doctors, the nurses and the health care providers who are working tirelessly on the front lines. Their work is crucial. That is why, since the start of this pandemic, my department at PSPC has worked non-stop to procure vital PPE and other medical supplies for front-line workers.
In terms of domestic production, we should recognize and thank all Canadian suppliers who have stepped up to fight COVID-19 with us. Many Canadian companies increased their levels of production to provide vast quantities of the items we so urgently need. Protecting our front-line medical professionals was, and continues to be, a top priority.
Early on, for example, we finalized a long-term contract with Medicom out of Montreal to produce tens of millions of N95 respirators and surgical masks annually. We have already taken delivery of more than 18 million made-in-Canada surgical masks and more than 5.7 million made-in-Canada N95s from Medicom.
Throughout the pandemic, more and frequent testing has been critical in order to prevent isolated cases of COVID-19 from becoming renewed outbreaks. LuminUltra, a leading biotech company based in New Brunswick, stepped up to produce large amounts of reagent to support COVID-19 tests right through to March of this year.
While many businesses ramped up existing production capacity, some companies completely retooled their production lines to meet the country's needs. For example, Bauer in Quebec switched from making hockey equipment to making face shields for front-line workers. Toronto Stamp pivoted from making signage to kick-starting a project involving more than a dozen Toronto businesses to manufacture face shields. A Calgary-based chemical processing and manufacturing firm, Fluid Energy, stepped up to produce millions of litres of hand sanitizers to ship across Canada. The list goes on, Madam Chair. For example, Stanfields in New Brunswick has provided us with 100,000 medical gowns per week. Irving Oil, based in New Brunswick, retooled their lines to produce hand sanitizer.
These companies are just a handful of the many innovative and dedicated firms across our country that have stepped up and worked to make sure our front-line health care workers are protected.
I'll move now to vaccine procurement. We know that the quickest way to get to the other side of this pandemic is to follow public health advice alongside a successful vaccine rollout. While our government is investing in the future of domestic vaccine production, my department continues to fight the pandemic today with a strategy that is getting authorized vaccines into the country as soon as possible.
Madam Chair, from the start our government's objective has been to secure safe, effective and necessary vaccines for Canadians as rapidly as possible. Our work was guided by the vaccine task force, the creation of which was a key element for our country's vaccine strategy. In all, our government managed to gain access to nearly 400 million doses of potential vaccines from seven different candidates, resulting in one of the most robust and diverse portfolios of COVID-19 vaccines in the entire world.
Through the establishment of these agreements, we negotiated the quickest delivery options possible. Following the Health Canada approval of Pfizer and Moderna, we have received and distributed more than 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccines to provinces and territories. Between Moderna and Pfizer alone, we remain on track to have enough vaccines to immunize everyone in Canada who wishes to be immunized prior to the end of September.
In addition, through the COVAX initiative, Canada will receive at least 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is close to receiving Health Canada authorization. Should the vaccine be authorized, deliveries could begin arriving before the end of March. We also continue to work closely with the five remaining manufacturers with whom we have bilateral agreements: Sanofi-GSK, Medicago, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.
Our goal is to get more Health Canada-approved vaccines into Canada as quickly as we can.
While vaccines are critically important, so are the supplies needed to administer them. For example, we have secured more than 170 million syringes of varying sizes from a range of suppliers. This includes 64 million of the low dead volume syringes, which are in extremely limited supply around the world. Approximately one million of those specialized syringes are arriving in Canada this week.
In closing, Madam Chair, throughout the pandemic, every single time we have asked Canadian companies for help, they have stepped up and delivered. In addition, we have made sure that we have critical made-in-Canada PPE and medical supplies to meet our country's needs.
Keeping our loved ones safe is our top priority.
Thank you for your time. I'm happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, my dear colleagues.
It is an honour for me to speak today as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to provide an update on the government's efforts to ensure that Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19.
First, on behalf of parliamentarians, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the officials and public servants who have worked hard over the past months, the past year, to ensure the health and safety of Canadians. I'm thinking in particular of my Deputy Minister Simon Kennedy, but also of Mitch Davies, president of the National Research Council of Canada, and Bill Matthews, Deputy Minister to Minister Anand, who has done a remarkable job.
Canada has secured access to the most promising vaccines being developed in the world. The government has also acted to increase domestic vaccine production capacity to help ensure Canada's long-term pandemic preparedness.
When this pandemic began, Canada had no flexible large-scale biomanufacturing capacity that was suitable for a COVID-19 vaccine. It is important to remember how we got to this position.
For the better part of the 20th century, Canada played a key role in the development and global production of biopharmaceuticals, primarily through the work done at the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories in Toronto. That changed in the 1980s, when the government of the time decided to privatize the Connaught laboratories. Within 10 years, Canada's domestic biomanufacturing ecosystem had eroded. Although companies performed a considerable amount of R and D here in Canada, few products were commercialized for public use.
Then, the previous government cut the funding at Industry Canada that supported life science companies and attracted new investment in Canada.
Since then, Canada has lost a number of companies and significant investments. Here are a few examples.
In 2007, AstraZeneca ceased its manufacturing operations in Canada and consolidated them into its facility in Sweden.
In 2010, Johnson & Johnson closed its research centre in Montreal.
In 2011, Teva shut down one of its Canadian manufacturing plants, the one in Montreal.
In 2013, Boehringer Ingelheim closed its research and development centre in Laval, which was focused on hepatitis C and HIV.
In 1973, approximately 19% of Canada's domestic demand for vaccines and therapeutic drugs was met by imports. Today, Canada imports 85% of its vaccines and therapeutic drugs.
Let us look ahead.
From the earliest stages of the pandemic, our government recognized that we needed to increase our domestic capacity to make vaccines and therapeutics in Canada. We invested early and significantly. We took immediate action with a long-term vision.
Let me highlight for you, colleagues, a few of the many investments we have made since March 2020.
We must also remember that, in general, it can take two to five years to set up a new pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, if good manufacturing practices are followed. Given the crisis, we will make considerable efforts to speed up the process and reduce lead times.
First, we invested $126 million to build the National Research Council's new biomanufacturing centre near its Royalmount Avenue site in Montreal. Once fully operational later this year, the new facility will be able to produce approximately 2 million doses of vaccines per month nationally.
This week, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Novavax to undertake domestic production of its COVID-19 vaccine at this new biomanufacturing facility in Montreal.
The government has also invested $44 million to upgrade the Royalmount Avenue clinical trials facility. This will allow the NRC to produce materials for clinical trials and doses of vaccine for emergency use.
Let us look at what we did in Saskatchewan. We invested $23 million to help the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization–International Vaccine Centre—or, as we call it, the VIDO-InterVac—to help accelerate the development of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, and another $12 million to transform its current animal vaccine production facility to meet the standards required for the production of human vaccines.
Our government knows that the private sector plays a key role in research and development. Private companies are perfecting vaccines and improving biomanufacturing capacity.
For example, since the early months of the pandemic, the government has allocated $792 million under the strategic innovation fund to develop vaccines and therapeutic products here in Canada and to strengthen biomanufacturing activities. Colleagues from Quebec City will know that the private company called Medicago, which already has over 20 years' experience in vaccine production, has received support of up to $173 million. The funds will enable Medicago to accelerate clinical trials and build a vaccine and antibody production facility in accordance with good manufacturing practices. The government has committed to acquiring up to 76 million doses of Medicago's vaccine candidate if it is shown to be effective.
The strategic innovation fund has also invested up to $56 million in Variation Biotechnologies to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in its Ottawa research facility, and up to $25 million in Precision NanoSystems of Vancouver to support their breakthrough lipid nanoparticle technology.
The government recognizes that deploying effective vaccines is the best way to restart the Canadian economy and protect the health of Canadians over the long term.
In the Fall Economic Statement, we committed to exploring ways to strengthen Canada's long-term biomanufacturing and pandemic response capacity. Canada is poised to move forward thanks to its talent and its innovation advantage. This strong commitment comes because we can count on a collective effort.
In conclusion, I would say to all of us, let's seize the moment, let's be ambitious and let's together build a resilient biomanufacturing sector here in Canada.
I am now ready to answer your questions.
First of all, Mr. Cumming, thank you for welcoming me. I look forward to working with you. You and I already had a conversation. This is really my stuff.
Let us look back to when this all started. We all know that on March 11 the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. From that time to today, we have about 234 vaccine candidates around the world. On the advice of the vaccine task force—to be more specific to your question—we did look at the candidate that you mentioned, but this was for about three months, something like April to May to August. After that, we discontinued the discussion.
Even before that—and I think that's important for Canadians who are watching—within 12 days of the World Health Organization's declaring a pandemic, we were investing $192 million in biomanufacturing here in Canada. Within a month, we had invested close to $792 million.
My point is just to put that in context for Canadians watching. When there are 234 vaccine candidates in the world, we rely on science, and we rely on the advice of experts. The episode that you're talking about was a very short episode in a very long process. We looked at that for about three months, but then we decided to discontinue the discussion.
Let me be very clear. You have four phases when you build a plant. You have the design phase, the construction phase, the certification phase and the production phase.
I think we should all rejoice, first, as parliamentarians, that Novavax has chosen Canada. When I talked to the CEO.... They could have gone to about seven or eight countries where they already have manufacturing facilities, but they chose Canada, which is good news.
What I did say—and the —is that we expect construction to be completed by the end of the summer. Then you have the period of certification, which could be a couple of months, because, as you know, this is about good manufacturing practices. This is governed by Health Canada in accordance with its processes. Canadians would understand that we want to go fast but that we want to make sure that we respect all the health and safety protocols. Following that, we would go into production.
What I did say is that we would be producing a vaccine before the end of the year in that facility, in Royalmount. We are very pleased, I must say, and we should—you and I and every Canadian—think that having Novavax.... We were lucky because, in a way, the manufacturing process that we have in Royalmount is compatible with the Novavax vaccine. The second thing that made the CEO choose Canada was speed and, obviously, a very stable, predictable, secure supply market. I think that's good news because we need to be prudent and resilient for the future.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Minister and Madam Minister, thank you for being with us this morning to answer our questions.
My first question is for Minister Champagne, but I invite Minister Anand to add to the answer if she wishes.
Canada's strategy has two components. First, we have the supply strategy and, second, we have the domestic biomanufacturing strategy. To date, all that we have announced to Canadians is that we will fight COVID-19 with two doses of vaccine for every Canadian by September.
How will vaccine production here in Canada help us reach our goals even faster?
Do you believe we could count on Novavax to achieve our objectives before September? Do you feel it's more of a long-term solution, that is, it could help us subsequently, if the first two doses don't work, or if the virus comes back even stronger?
Let me say a few words, then I will let my colleague take over.
First of all, thank you for the question, Ms. Lambropoulos.
I feel that choosing Novavax for Canada is very good news for Canadians. As I often say, we must act immediately and concretely, yet with a long-term vision. What is our long-term vision? It is to ensure the health and safety of Canadians, and that requires resilience and caution.
My role as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry is to bring home as many links in the supply chain as possible. As noted in the previous questions, we have realized that we are starting from a reduced manufacturing base. This began decades ago. What we are doing now is rebuilding the biomanufacturing base here at home. This will allow us to face the future with much more resilience.
Together with the NRC and its president, Mr. Davies, we will do everything we can to accelerate the construction of the Royalmount Avenue plant. We have four stages: design, construction, certification and production. We are going to do everything we can to make it happen quickly.
That being said, we have other pillars, such as Medicago in Quebec City, AbCellera in Vancouver and VIDO in Saskatchewan.
What I am doing, in cooperation with the government and public servants, is laying the foundations of this resilience, so that Canada is stronger and can face any future health emergency.
As I said, there are four phases: the design phase, the construction, certification and production. We have said, as the has said, that we expect construction will be completed by the summer.
Then you go into the certification phase, which is an independent process, what we call the good manufacturing practices, which is certification from Health Canada for any biomanufacturing facility in Canada. This period of time could vary, depending on how much time it will be. Then we will move quickly to production.
That's why I said we will be able to produce before the end of the year. Construction will be completed by the end of the summer. There's the period in between of certification that, obviously, we will know when we enter that phase with the independent experts who are going to certify.
I think the good thing for us, and I'm sure you realize, is, again, that Novavax has chosen Canada, thanks to the policy we placed, thanks to the funding we have and our view about science.
I spoke to the CEO. He was excited to come to Canada. They see Canada as the place to be now. We have proven during the pandemic to be a very trusted partner. I can tell you, as a former foreign affairs minister, that the world is looking for stability, predictability, rule of law, traceability and security of supplies. We have demonstrated we're a partner of choice to the world, and that's why we can attract these kinds of investments into Canada.
I want to start by thanking you for your comment, Mr. Lemire. I'm pleased to be giving you all the information that I have. I think that there's a spirit of collegiality and collaboration, without partisanship. We're saving lives. We must do everything together and hold on to the best ideas.
I think that a strategy of self-reliance has a major benefit. As you have seen, the Government of Quebec welcomed Novavax's decision to set up shop in Canada, especially in Montreal, Quebec. This shows that Montreal has an ecosystem in this area, including significant human capital. I'd like to give credit to our researchers and scientists. I've spoken to the company's president and CEO. If companies like Novavax decide to set up shop in Montreal, the reason is that they believe that they'll have the necessary human capital.
This will enable us to be self-sufficient. Neither you nor I know what the future holds. There are new variants of this virus and we're seeing all kinds of things emerge.
From the beginning, my task has been to take immediate action to try to attract investment here as quickly as possible so that we can be as self-sufficient as possible. On a broader level, I've also had the task of working with Minister Anand and others to find ways to bring as many parts of the supply chain here as possible. That way, in Quebec and in Canada, we'll have all the investments that we can muster to ensure self-sufficiency in preparation for the next health crisis, should one occur.
Thank you. Sorry, but I'll respond in English.
I want to be clear that PSPC proactively and repeatedly approached leading vaccine manufacturers with offers to leverage this domestic capacity and possibility here in Canada. We took this issue up with suppliers at every turn at the negotiating table to discern whether they would come to the table with this possibility of domestic biomanufacturing.
The manufacturers reviewed the identified assets here in Canada and concluded that biomanufacturing capacity in this country at the time of contracting, which was last August and September, was too limited to justify the investment of capital and expertise to start manufacturing in Canada. To be clear, PSPC frequently, forcefully, and aggressively brought this issue to the table and raised it with the manufacturers at every turn.
The reality is that standing up new manufacturing of a vaccine requires expertise, and it requires resources from the supplier. Given the scarcity of resources, suppliers emphasized locations that had existing capacity and that would be able to manufacture quickly on a global scale.
That is not to say that the window was closed. For example, we continued discussions with Novavax, as François-Philippe Champagne has indicated, so that there is an option on the table for domestic biomanufacturing. That is a conversation that we continue to have with vaccine suppliers, with ISED and with Minister Champagne to make sure that we are indeed keeping all options open for Canadians. We don't know at this time whether this is going to be a vaccine that is going to have to be administered on a year-to-year basis, and therefore we will continue to pursue the domestic biomanufacturing option.
The clear point is that PSPC raised this at all times.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, Minister Champagne and Minister Anand.
My first question is for Minister Anand.
Your colleague was once filmed in a bar saying that, when you repeat the same thing in oral question period, people end up believing it.
Your strategy is to say that Canada has reserved the largest batch of vaccines, with 400 million potential doses from seven companies. These are really just political answers. There are actually agreements in place with only two manufacturers so far: Pfizer and Moderna.
You, and the in particular, are all hammering home that every Canadian who wants the vaccine will receive it by early or late September. We find that hard to believe. How can you say that when there are currently delivery delays?
Thank you for the question.
At the outset, we, at PSPC, were faced with a challenge to procure a number of items of PPE on behalf of the Public Health Agency of Canada in March. This was required on an urgent basis when the country needed these items. We moved very quickly to implement long-term contracts so that we could prepare for any eventuality in this pandemic, including a second phase, which we saw.
What we did was to procure over 2.7 billion items of PPE, and we were able to provide that equipment to the Public Health Agency for distribution to front-line health care workers across this country. Over 1.4 billion items of that PPE have been delivered: face shields, gloves, gowns, surgical masks, N95 masks. That was a massive procurement effort. I don't want that to go unnoticed, because our public servants worked incredibly hard to provide for Canadians.
At the same time, there were additional procurements that were needed, for example rapid test kits. We moved very quickly to purchase over 40 million rapid test kits for Canadians and distribute those to provinces and territories. Nearly 15.5 million tests have been delivered to date, and that number is increasing.
In addition to that, we then moved to procure vaccines, under seven APAs, and put those contracts in place in very rapid succession after we received the advice of the vaccine task force and the Public Health Agency of Canada. We put those contracts in place, and now we are seeing deliveries into this country, which will rapidly increase as we go through the next weeks and months.
That strategy was one of aggressive action and forceful conduct at the bargaining table, and I am very honoured to be on the team that brought that to the fore.
By the same token, we are also in charge of ensuring that the supplies and the logistics systems are in place. So, count this: the PPE, rapid test kits, the vaccine procurement contracts, and a logistics system that works end to end so that we can support the delivery of supplies across this country, including vaccine supplies.
For example, we purchased freezers—a total of 446 deep-freeze and ultra deep-freeze—gauze, bandages, alcohol swabs, sharps containers, fill and finish machines, all to be utilized in the vaccine procurement and distribution effort. Those supplies are being delivered to the provinces every day, because we are in this together.
We need to be collaborative, to work co-operatively, and that's exactly what I talk to my team about every day. We are working for Canadians to make sure that we are supported as a country through this pandemic.
I think that Minister Anand knows more about this than I do. However, I can give you a more general answer, Mr. Lemire.
Since our call to action, 6,800 companies in Canada have wanted to participate in the collective effort. What we have done is almost comparable to Project Apollo.
I want to come back to questions that were raised earlier, especially by Mr. Davies. People are wondering why some manufacturers decided to do things differently if there was a license. That's because Canada did not have the manufacturing base to produce vaccines in such large quantities. The largest factory we have is Sanofi's facility in Toronto. However, Sanofi already produces vaccines for other diseases. So that is why the contracts we have in Canada may be different.
If we take the example of AstraZeneca and India, it's important to understand that they had already established a partnership. That factory in India produces 1 billion vaccines annually. You understand that our situation is in no way comparable to India's, even if we take into account facilities we are currently building. We need to rebuild our entire manufacturing base. That explains in large part the decision made in terms of contracts.
The same goes for England. Our manufacturing base is even smaller than England's.
In these circumstances, the best solution was clearly to import vaccines, as Minister Anand decided to do. The second action we took, 12 days after the pandemic was declared, was to quickly invest considerable amounts of money to improve our manufacturing capacity in order to ensure our resilience.
Now, and both ministers today, I think, have repeatedly emphasized that Canada will receive enough vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna alone to vaccinate every single Canadian by September. That's the claim. Yesterday it was revealed that Canada is the only G7 country to request vaccines from the COVAX program, which is a global initiative meant primarily to help low- and middle-income countries get access to vaccines. Specifically, Canada has requested approximately two million doses from AstraZeneca, of course pending regulatory approval. That's expected to arrive at the end of June.
In this regard, we are listed along with such countries as Rwanda, Sudan and Afghanistan, which have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine. We've also made this request of COVAX at a time when the entire continent of Africa has administered about 230,000 doses and Canada has received about a million doses.
Minister Champagne, does it seem morally defensible to you that Canada is taking vaccines from poor countries—because we are in a globally competitive environment, as Minister Anand said—some of which have received no doses at all, while claiming that we have enough doses to vaccinate our entire population without even touching the COVAX supplies?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Champagne, I welcome you in this new role.
I am new to this committee, so I will be watching you, Ms. Anand.
You just compared vaccine procurement to Project Apollo. I am instead tempted to say, “Houston, we have a problem.” Something isn't right.
Ms. Anand, my question is for you.
Today, The Economist is reporting that Canada is dreaming in technicolour and that the vaccine delivery we want will not materialize. We have not received any vaccines over the past three weeks.
According to you, your portfolio is amazing, and you have done extraordinary things.
However, if we take the global vaccine production capacity into account, is it really realistic to think that we will have vaccinated Canada's entire population of 38 million people by September?
I don't know whether you want me to answer, Mr. Généreux. You muted yourself, and we understand why. I understand the meaning of your question, so I will answer it quickly.
England's case is often brought up, Mr. Généreux, and I find it interesting. However, as I told you, the British manufacturing base was vastly different from Canada's. England had more capacity, and that is what made production intensification possible.
In Canada, only two factories have a large manufacturing capacity: Stanofi's facility, in Toronto, and GSK's, in Quebec City. You are familiar with GSK, which has facilities in Sainte-Foy. However, GSK is already producing a flu vaccine.
So our manufacturing base was smaller than England's. That is why the English were able to quickly turn to that solution.
Here, we quickly invested considerable amounts of money. We must also make sure to do things prudently and with resilience. By choosing to set up in Canada, Novavax was essentially giving us its seal of approval. That's pretty important.
Perhaps I can try to give a quick answer.
I can't really get into the internal deliberations of the task force. I can say that we did meet and discuss with the U.K. vaccine task force. We were quite interested in learning the lessons from other countries. On this issue of the U.K. experience and of domestic biomanufacturing, I said that my ministry did an extensive survey of the biomanufacturing capabilities in Canada. We did that with the support of expert consultants. This was very early last spring, in the early days of the pandemic.
To take the U.K. as an example, the U.K. had a number of very large contract manufacturing operators that were capable of quickly shifting to produce COVID vaccines. The U.K. had also started years before the pandemic, in fact in 2017, to launch a significant rebuilding strategy. For one of the big facilities they are building, which won't be ready until later this year, they launched the construction in 2019, a year before the pandemic hit.
As Minister Champagne said, the U.K. certainly pivoted and was able to do manufacturing domestically, but they were starting from a much higher base, including having facilities—
First, to your other points, Mr. Cumming, I just want to clarify that, for example, the investments that were made to IRAP are through the National Research Council. The amounts that you were referring to have been determined with experts and leading scientists in Canada. Those are scientific decisions. They're not political decisions as to the level of funding. I want to be clear that these decisions were taken by experts who said, “This is the type of funding you need for that type of clinical trial.”
I want to be clear with you and all members. If you have companies that want to help, please send them to me and we'll see and we'll provide them to the task force that is giving the expert advice.
When it comes to the pandemic, again, we just have to go back a year. The pandemic was declared on March 11, and 12 days afterwards, we were already there to invest significantly—as I said, $192 million. Within a month, we had put close to one billion dollars to scale. I think what you're saying, Mr. Cumming, is that we have these different companies in Canada, and I have a full list of vaccine companies across Canada. What we've been trying to do to react quickly, with the deputy minister and the whole team, was to scale very quickly to make sure that, based on advice, we would select the best one that could be safe and effective and could be available quickly to Canadians.
I think if you look at the record, we acted as quickly as possible to make sure that.... The investments like Novavax—you would agree with me—are the type of thing I want to see. That's the type of thing I'm looking for, to make sure we accelerate and expand.
To Mr. Erskine-Smith's point before, we will be resilient whatever comes next. Whatever that may be, we'll be resilient.
First of all, let me thank you for your work as parliamentary secretary in helping, like all members have, to make sure we have the best strategy and policies to protect Canadians. If you would allow me, I will go back to Mr. Cumming's previous question, when he was talking about the level of preparedness.
Mr. Cumming, I apologize I didn't have enough time to be fulsome in my answer, but I want to say that we reopened the strategic innovation fund to biomanufacturing when we formed the government.
To your point, I think what all of us need to look at now is that we are building the pillars of our future resilience, so we invested in Medicago in Quebec City, and it is a significant investment, close to $173 million. We then made a significant investment in VIDO in Saskatchewan, and one in AbCellera. This week we were able to attract—and I want to emphasize for members—Novavax to Canada, because, let's be clear, every country would like to have Novavax manufacturing in their country. They chose Canada, and there's a reason why.
I also want to be fulsome with Mr. Cumming, because I did speak to the CEO of the company. Our policies, when it comes to science, investments, and ease of doing business, were key in his decision. You don't need to take it from me. You can listen to the interviews he gave in Canada.
What we will be doing together—and we're trying to accelerate this as quickly as possible—is investing in small and medium-size businesses as well. Mr. Ehsassi, and all of us members, have SMEs that want to help in our regions, in our provinces and in our towns, and I greatly welcome that. That's why we supported them with the National Research Council. We supported those that were at a stage that was, I would say, more advanced. We couldn't, for example, in terms of biomanufacturing, give them the resources to do that.
Deputy Minister Kennedy explained we did that because there are also different types of vaccines. When we look at our vaccination procurement, we see there are about 234 vaccine candidates in the world. We selected seven of the most promising based on the advice of the task force. Two of them have been approved in Canada and in most G7 countries, and deliveries are now in Canada.
When we look at the big picture, we see it in terms of both procurement and domestic scale-up of biomanufacturing. We did what we needed to do first to ensure that we were protecting the health and safety of Canadians, and at the same time, that we would be very resilient.
We're not going to stop there. I want to reassure you, Mr. Ehsassi, and other members of the committee, I'm talking to different companies. We are going to make our country resilient. We will be well prepared for whatever may come next. We will try to accelerate all these manufacturing projects to be produced safely, because I think Canadians want speed, but they also want something safe. We will do this as safely and as quickly as possible to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
I'm glad you raised the issue of science because, before the biomanufacturing stage, there is science. Science gets us there.
I think we have shown the importance of science. As I often say, the pandemic was declared on March 11, and 12 days later, on March 23, we were already investing $275 million in what we called Canada's plan to mobilize science to fight COVID-19. The goal of those investments was to ensure to give us the necessary means. That was on top of what the National Research Council of Canada was already doing.
We will continue to invest in science. Everyone must learn lessons from this pandemic. A century has passed since something like this occurred. We have never experienced such a pandemic. Of course, we must learn from it.
That said, we reacted quickly. You can definitely count on me, as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, to work with you and your colleagues, listen to the ideas that will be proposed and see how we can better support basic science and applied science. Those people enable us to make progress.
I was looking at various vaccine candidates. There is a vaccine from Medicago, but there are also vaccines from smaller companies, such as Variation Biotechnologies, Precision NanoSystems, IMV, Entos Pharmaceuticals and Providence Therapeutics. There is also a vaccine from Biodextris, in Laval, and from Glycovax Pharma, in Montreal. We have a lot of them. I am pleased, as this will help create quality jobs and keep our researchers in the country. Moreover, our universities will be even more attractive if our manufacturing base provides students with good opportunities.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I have a couple of comments.
When the contracts were put in place with the seven different manufacturers, again, this was during last summer, at a time when nobody was certain which vaccines would actually make it across the line. We have two that have made it through regulatory approval and, hopefully, more to come soon. That was the reason, and companies were taking risks to basically do research, clinical trials and start production at the same time, so there was a need to sort of pony up if you wanted your foot in the door early.
In terms of what happens if they all come to fruition and Canada gets more doses than we need, well, there's an ability to donate. As has already been mentioned, no one is really sure what the durability of these vaccines is. Is this an annual thing so that they could be folded into future years' vaccines as well? There's flexibility there, and I think, frankly, that it's just too early to say what will happen, given the various stages of regulatory approval.
Madam Chair, I'll try to give a brief answer. It's a very technical answer to give a full answer. I also don't want to pretend I'm a technical expert.
I would say that if we did a full survey of all of the assets in Canada.... As Minister Anand noted earlier, there were very active discussions to see whether we could get technology transfer to have some of these candidates produced in Canada. You need to match up the candidate you want to transfer with a facility that can handle it. It's a bit of a mix-and-match.
For example, certain vaccines actually have to be produced in a certain level of biosafety. You can't produce them next door to some other product. There are other vaccines where the biosafety level can be lower. If you take, for example, GSK in Ste-Foy, it has a facility that makes seasonal flu vaccines. That's an egg-based technology. The messenger RNA vaccines that are currently approved and being used are not able.... You don't produce messenger RNA using an egg-based technology. The challenge is that you have to have technology that's aligned to the vaccine.
Then the other thing Minister Champagne said—which frankly I think was really the more important and more salient point—is that the companies required scale to really make it interesting. I noted the honourable member Mr. Davies had asked, “Well, what about Korea? What about Mexico?” I just took a quick look at the capabilities in South Korea. South Korea has facilities that have bioreactors that actually can handle hundreds of thousands of litres of substance. In Canada, generally, in the facilities we were dealing with, we're talking about a few thousand litres, 5,000 litres, etc. There are [Technical difficulty—Editor].
Madam Chair, we are working very diligently to support the government in rebuilding Canada's biomanufacturing capacity, but the main point, which I think is indisputable when looking at the facts, is that we're unfortunately starting from a much lower base.
The U.K. is home to two of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, which are both involved in the production of COVID vaccines: GSK and AstraZeneca. They had, going back many years, even earlier than 2017, a fairly sophisticated strategy for life sciences that involved investments in the sector. I believe it was in 2017—I'd have to triple-check—that they launched discussions about further reinvestment in their industry.
This is something that the vaccine task force looked at in terms of whether there were lessons learned for the Canadian experience.
As an example, they are now in the process of constructing their vaccines manufacturing and innovation centre, which will be a large facility that will be partly dedicated to research and partly available for commercial vaccine production. As I said, the contracts for that were let in 2019, and it is not finished being built yet. My understanding, based on the analysis we've done, is that some of the equipment that their contract manufacturers are using to make COVID vaccines has been relocated from this facility under construction to the contract manufacturers.
The main point is that the U.K. started from a much higher base, has a larger contract manufacturing industry, had already been actively investing, studying and consulting, and had shovels in the ground to build further capacity. In fact, they were actually able to borrow some of the stuff that was already in flight when the pandemic hit, to pivot it. There's really no comparing the situation with Canada.
With regard to Sir John Bell's comments that all things being equal, it would be better to build stuff domestically, we share that sentiment 100%. Obviously, for the future, and for next year and beyond, the objective would be to be in exactly that position. If you cast back nine or 10 months ago, there was.... The conclusion of our leading experts, and from the analysis we did, was that the notion that we build a brand new factory from the ground up, have it licensed, do the tech transfer and commence vaccine deliveries would have been a risky proposition, to say the least.
I think there are lessons to be learned, but we are in a very different position from the United Kingdom. I can assure you of that.
That is our time for today.
I want to thank Mr. Matthews, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Davies for being with us and for staying a little extra to allow our members to ask these vital questions.
I want to thank the members for their excellent questions today. I think this was a great meeting.
A big thanks to the interpreters, the clerk, the analysts and the IT team.
Thank you so much for everything today.
As you know, we will have the vaccine task force with us the week of February 15. If you have additional witnesses that you would like to hear from with respect to this study, please make sure to get those lists to the clerk so that he can reach out. Again, it could be a rolling list. You don't have to have your final list. That would be fantastic.
That being said, I call this meeting adjourned. I'll see you next week.