A Manitoba-backed COVID-19 vaccine is showing great promise, although it’s unlikely to receive federal approval before early 2022, its developer says.

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A Manitoba-backed COVID-19 vaccine is showing great promise, although it’s unlikely to receive federal approval before early 2022, its developer says.

Providence Therapeutics chief executive officer Brad Sorenson said enrolment in the Phase 1 trial of its messenger RNA vaccine is complete, and the preliminary data from a blinded study show its immune response to be equal or better to that of similar Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech products.

"If what we’re seeing now is confirmed... we will have a best-in-class vaccine," he said in an interview this week.

Sorenson said Providence’s product is producing "substantially lower" numbers of adverse events than other mRNA vaccines, and indications are it can be stored in refrigerators, rather than freezers.

He said the initial test data will be made public soon.

In February, Premier Brian Pallister announced Manitoba had signed a deal with the Calgary-based company for two million doses of the yet-to-be-approved vaccine.

The formal contract has yet to be signed, but the Progressive Conservative government has committed to making a non-refundable payment of $7.2 million to Providence.

A provincial spokeswoman said no money will flow to Providence until a formal contract is finalized.

Sorenson said he expects the deal to be completed next week. The province has promised to release full contract details once the agreement is finalized.

Providence plans to initiate its Phase 2 trial in June, and, if all goes well, begin the third and final trial in September. The company will be seeking approval for its vaccine in January or February at the latest, its boss said.

That’s several months later than the company originally planned, but Health Canada denied its bid to combine its Phase 2 and 3 trials.

Providence Therapeutics boasts the first fully made-in-Canada COVID vaccine to begin Phase 1 human trials.

While product approval will not occur until the initial rounds of pandemic vaccinations in Canada are completed, Sorenson is unconcerned.

If it turns out Manitoba doesn’t need the doses, he is confident there will be other buyers, particularly abroad.

There’s also considerable evidence COVID-19, in one form or another, will be with the world for some time, and opportunity for the province to recoup its investment.

Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada is in the midst of negotiating new vaccine contracts to secure supplies for booster shots if needed next year.

Dr. Anand Kumar, a University of Manitoba professor of medicine, said there is "a very high probability" Manitobans will require some form of novel coronavirus immunization for years to come, due to variants and virus resistance to original vaccines.

"So, just as we have to give annual flu shots, my strong suspicion is that we’re going to have to give annual or biennial COVID shots," he said.

Kumar is a strong supporter of made-in-Canada supplies of vaccines. So far during the pandemic, the country has been at the mercy of international suppliers. That has led to delays in getting jabs in arms.

"I think without a shadow of a doubt Canada needs to have its own vaccine production capability, and the more the better," Kumar said.

When Pallister announced the deal with Providence, the Manitoba government said it would make a 20 per cent down payment of the value of the contract ($7.2 million) and pay an additional 40 per cent once the vaccine was approved by Health Canada. The remainder of the money would be paid upon delivery of the vaccine.

Sorenson said he did not want to sign the formal contract with Manitoba until the company had a clearer idea of the vaccine’s effectiveness and expected approval date.

"I wanted to have clarity that this was going to be an extremely successful vaccine. We have that now," he said. "So I am extraordinarily comfortable doing this deal and that the province of Manitoba is going to look like geniuses."

While Manitoba has stepped up to the plate, federal funding will be critical to ensuring Canada reaps most of the benefits of the domestically produced vaccine, Sorenson said. That’s not materialized yet.

"We have a world-class vaccine, and I am getting very serious inquires from outside of Canada and my nightmare scenario is Canada doesn’t step up and I am forced to sign the deals for other countries to advance the program, and then Canada is stuck in a bad spot while I’m exporting vaccines," Sorenson wrote in a follow-up email.

"Ideally, Canada steps up and orders doses for 2022, provides a deposit, gets the first doses produced... and I sell the balance of 2022 capacity outside of Canada."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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