Quebec company that grows vaccines with plants to get lion's share of $214M federal fund

COVID-19 2 (CTV News)

A Quebec company with an unusual vaccine-growing technique -- using leafy greens to do it -- is getting the lion’s share of a major federal fund to create made-in-Canada COVID-19 vaccines.

Of $214 million announced today by the Trudeau government, $173 million is going to Medicago, which is headquartered in Quebec City and is currently developing a vaccine.

The deal means that Ottawa will buy the rights to 76 million doses of Medicago’s vaccine, though the contract is dependent on the vaccine meeting Health Canada’s safety standards.

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VACCINE GREENHOUSE

Medicago has a unique approach to making vaccines, growing plants to be the vehicle for the process.

The company’s website shows huge greenhouses filled with lettuce-like plants, saying it uses them as “mini protein factories.”

Most vaccines are made by growing live viruses in “primary cells,” which have traditionally been chicken eggs but can also be chicken embryos, yeast, bacteria or cell cultures. The viruses are then killed and split for use in the vaccine.

Medicago uses plants to grow a similar viral cell, using “living plants as bioreactors to produce a non-infectious particle that mimics the target virus, without the use of any live viruses,” says its website.

The company says it will use some of the money from the federal deal to add more space to its Quebec City facility.

It plans to initiate Phase 2 human trials with its vaccine candidate next month, and to begin Phase 3 in December.

GLOBAL RACE FOR DOSES

As for the rest of the federal funding, Ottawa is investing $18.2 million in a different vaccine candidate in B.C., Precision NanoSystems, and the National Research Council, a taxpayer-funded body, is investing $23 million into other Canadian vaccine initiatives.

So far the federal government has signed six contracts with companies with vaccine projects in the works—all part of a global race to produce a safe and effective vaccine for the virus and to make sure each country has enough doses on hand.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that even when a vaccine is approved and obtained, there will be a priority list setting out who will get doses first.

Trudeau also announced that Canada has acquired hundreds of thousands of rapid tests to be distributed to the provinces and territories.

Thursday marked Canada’s highest rise in COVID-19 cases in a single day since the start of the pandemic, with 2,788 new cases across the country.

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