Canada’s federal government has signed agreements with two U.S. drug companies to secure up to 114 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines under development.
Maryland-based biotechnology company Novavax announced in a press release Monday that it has struck a deal to produce 76 million doses of a vaccine it is working on for the Canadian government, should the vaccine ever get Health Canada approval.
Later in the day, Ottawa announced it has signed a separate deal with a subsidiary of New Jersey-based drug conglomerate Johnson & Johnson to secure up to 38 million doses of the company’s potential vaccine, which is completely different from Novavax’s.
The vaccines are two of dozens in development around the world, each of which targets the virus that causes COVID-19 in a different way.
At last count, the virus has killed more than 846,000 people around the world since the start of this year.
Novavax’s vaccine is known as a “protein subunit” vaccine, which has the advantage of being manufactured faster than some other types of vaccine but generally doesn’t produce as strong an immune response as some other potential options.
The company released promising results of a very small clinical trial earlier this month, which showed it produced higher levels of the antibodies in healthy volunteers after two doses than those found in recovered COVID-19 patients.
The initial trial tested 106 subjects aged 18 to 59 with the vaccine, along with 25 people who received a placebo.
The next phase of testing currently underway in the U.S. and Australia will include many more people, and at least half of them will be between the ages of 60 and 84, an age bracket that faces the highest risk of having the worst outcomes from being infected, based on what is known about the virus.
The company plans to start much larger late-stage clinical trials soon, and told Reuters last month that if all goes well, they expect they could obtain regulatory approvals as early as December.
The company said Monday the vaccine, should it work and be safe, would be available to Canadians as early as the second quarter of 2021.
“We are pleased to work with the Canadian government on supply of our COVID-19 vaccine, an essential step to ensure broad access of our vaccine candidate,” said CEO Stanley C. Erck in a release.
The agreement with Novovax “will give Canadians access to a promising COVID-19 vaccine candidate,” said Anita Anand, Canada’s minister of public services and procurement, in a news release.
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“This is an important step in our government’s efforts to secure a vaccine to keep Canadians safe and healthy, as the global pandemic evolves.”
Novavax has signed similar deals with the United Kingdom, India, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Japan to supply doses of the potential vaccine.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate, whose full name is Ad26.COV2.S, targets the virus in a completely different way than the Novavax candidate.
It is what’s known as non-replicating viral vector vaccine, which are viruses that have been genetically engineered so they can’t replicate and cause disease then injected into the body to provoke an immune response.
A phase 1 and 2 trial of that vaccine is underway in the U.S. and Belgium.
The deals with Novavax and Johnson & Johnson come on the heels of similar ones that the federal government has signed with other drug companies, including one for at least 20 million doses of a potential vaccine from Pfizer and up to 56 million from Moderna.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both RNA vaccines and thus functionally similar, they are completely different from the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson candidates, which means that Canada has potentially secured access to millions of vaccine doses that work in three completely distinct ways.
At a press conference on Monday, Anand said the government is also in the final stages of negotiations with drug firm AstraZeneca, which is working with Oxford University on a promising non-replicating viral vector vaccine.
“Taken together, our vaccine agreements will give Canada at least 88 million doses, with options to obtain tens of millions more,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press conference on Monday morning, during which he also announced $126 million to expand a bio-manufacturing facility in Montreal, to produce drugs and vaccines to combat COVID-19 and other things.
“In the weeks and months ahead, our government will continue to take the steps needed to make sure Canada gets a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” Trudeau said.
“Once a vaccine is proven to work, we’ll also need to be able to produce and distribute it here at home.”
Novavax’s vaccine is one of roughly a dozen that has been singled out by the U.S. government for funding under the so-called Operation Warp Speed plan to speed up treatments for the coronavirus that has swept the world into economic chaos this year.