Large Tobacco’s divestment from Quebec’s Medicago ‘a step in the proper route’ for its COVID vaccine

Tobacco firm Philip Morris Worldwide has divested all of its shares from Medicago, a Canadian vaccine collaborator whose plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, Covifenz, was initially rejected by the World Well being Group over its ties with Large Tobacco.

In a press release on Thursday, Philip Morris spokesperson David Fraser mentioned the corporate determined to divest its stake in Medicago and that it is “probably the most acceptable means ahead.”

“We have now lengthy believed within the public well being potential of Medicago’s revolutionary strategy for growing new plant-based vaccines and we hope this potential is realized for the advantage of international public well being,” Fraser mentioned in an electronic mail.

Medicago, whose headquarters is in Quebec, is now 100 per cent owned by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma. Earlier than the choice, Philip Morris, which produces Marlboro cigarettes, owned 21 per cent of the corporate’s shares.

In an electronic mail to CBC Information, the Quebec firm mentioned the divestment is “probably the most acceptable means ahead.” A spokesperson for Medicago mentioned this ensures its “future progress and skill to realize its mission,” which is to “create and ship efficient responses to rising international well being challenges.”

Covifenz can now attain worldwide markets

In 2020, the federal authorities gave Medicago $173 million to develop its vaccine, construct a brand new manufacturing facility and buy 76 million doses. In February, Well being Canada authorized Covifenz for adults 18 to 64 years outdated — making it the primary plant-based vaccine to be authorized to be used in Canada.

However in March, the World Well being Group (WHO) mentioned it is not accepting Medicago’s request for Covifenz’s emergency use, as a result of firm’s “linkage with the tobacco business.”

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François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and business, says Ottawa has been working with Medicago and its shareholders to ‘discover a resolution that helps the expansion of the corporate.’ (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

WHO mentioned the choice was placed on maintain, which quickly saved Covifenz out of COVAX, a world COVID-19 vaccine-sharing initiative.

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and business, mentioned the federal authorities has been working with Medicago and its shareholders to “discover a resolution that helps the expansion of the corporate.”

“This transaction is a step in the proper route, and we are going to proceed to observe this matter very intently,” Champagne mentioned in an electronic mail.

Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie College in Halifax, mentioned the choice now permits Medicago to distribute its vaccine internationally if it reapplies with WHO.

“It is vital as a result of it permits Medicago to play on the worldwide stage … so I feel it might be superb information,” Halperin mentioned.

“One must hypothesize that if Medicago was now not in a position to have any sort of worldwide vaccine market that they might be a horrible funding for anyone.”

Quebec-based Medicago produced Covifenz, the primary plant-based COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized to be used in Canada. In 2020, the federal authorities gave Medicago $173 million to develop its vaccine, construct a brand new manufacturing facility and buy 76 million doses. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Public Providers and Procurement Canada did not reply CBC’s questions on when the 76 million doses of Covifenz are anticipated to be delivered from Medicago.

In a press release, the division mentioned negotiations between Ottawa and Medicago “are ongoing.”

Choice applauded by tobacco critic

Les Hagen, government director of Motion on Smoking and Well being, a charity advocating for tobacco management, discount and prevention, mentioned he is “relieved” that Canada is now not collaborating with a multinational tobacco firm.

“It is excellent news,” he mentioned. “Hopefully this vaccine can get one other overview by the World Well being Group.”

Hagen criticized the federal government’s choice to collaborate with Medicago within the first place, stating that public funds may have been higher invested in different Canadian firms that are not backed by Large Tobacco, which he accuses of making an attempt to “whitewash” its picture.

Les Hagen, government director of Motion on Smoking and Well being, says public funds may have been higher invested in different Canadian firms that are not backed by Large Tobacco. (Colin Corridor/CBC)

“We felt that it was extremely unethical. It is really a violation of a legally binding treaty: the Framework Conference on Tobacco Management,” he mentioned.

The framework, which is managed by WHO, commits to guard public well being insurance policies “from the industrial and different vested pursuits of the tobacco business.” Canada signed it in 2005.

Earlier this 12 months, a spokesperson for the Public Well being Company of Canada mentioned the federal authorities “studied the matter of its funding in Medicago rigorously” and believes it’s nonetheless “compliant with its treaty obligations associated to tobacco management” with WHO. 

‘We’d like that capability in Canada’

Halperin of Dalhousie mentioned Medicago’s vaccine is produced within the leaf of a plant that is a relative of tobacco and that the plant itself acts as a “manufacturing facility” for producing viral particles which are a part of the vaccine.

“It’s totally novel know-how,” he mentioned, including that Covifenz is the primary vaccine that makes use of this know-how to battle COVID-19.

Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Middle for Vaccinology at Dalhousie College, says it is important that Canada construct on its functionality to supply vaccines for home and international markets. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Canada misplaced the aptitude to supply its vaccines years in the past as a result of consolidation and buyout of many firms, and the federal government has acknowledged that deficiency, Halperin mentioned.

“That is going to take time to rebuild…. The Medicago story is only one facet of it,” he mentioned, including that it is important to have home vaccine-supply skill as a result of borders have a tendency to shut throughout emergencies.

“Regardless of what everyone says about international co-operation, borders nonetheless shut and we want that capability in Canada — each for our personal functionality but in addition to contribute to the worldwide scene.”

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