Canada secures supply of COVID-19 drug remdesivir, more vaccine doses

OTTAWA — Canada has now committed more than $1 billion to buy doses of COVID-19 vaccines after securing a fifth deal with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Tuesday.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday Canada has a deal in place to buy up to 72 million doses of their experimental vaccine candidate, which is just starting the second of three trial phases this month.

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In all, Canada has committed $1 billion to buy at least 154 million doses of vaccines from five different companies, and most of that money will not be refunded even if the vaccines never get approved.

"We need to make a substantial investment in order to ensure that Canada is well positioned to secure access to the successful vaccine or vaccines," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"The way in which we are doing that is to bet on multiple horses at the same time in order to ensure that as one or more of those horses crosses the finish line we have access to those vaccines."

Canada has signed deals with Moderna, Pfizer, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and now Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, all of which are among some of the most promising vaccines, but none of which have completed all the required clinical trials, or been approved for use in Canada.

On Sept. 3, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline said their vaccine candidate was going to begin Phase 1/2 trials which will test it on 440 individuals. The hope is the vaccine will be ready for the third and final phase of trials by the end of the year, and approved for use in the first half of 2021.

Moderna has a vaccine in Phase 3 trials, and Pfizer's is in a combined Phase 2 and 3 trial. Novavax is in a Phase 2 trial, while Johnson and Johnson is in a Phase 1/2 trial.

Most clinical trials have three phases to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine or drug being developed.

Each level of trials adds more volunteers on whom the drug is tested, looking for adverse health effects and whether the vaccine does cause a person to develop antibodies that can protect against COVID-19.

Anand said Canada has also signed an agreement with Gilead Sciences and McKesson Canada to get 150,000 vials of remdesivir, the only antiviral drug that has proven effective at treating patients with COVID-19. Health Canada approved the drug for use on COVID-19 patients at the end of July.

The doses will begin arriving at Canadian hospitals this month.

Canada has also joined the international vaccine co-operative known as the COVAX Facility, which is bringing together wealthy countries with low and middle-income countries to collectively invest in doses of vaccines.

It has not yet announced how much money it will contribute, a figure that was to have come last week but has been delayed. Now Anand says that Canada remains committed to COVAX and more details will be coming soon.

Canada has chosen to participate in both parts of the COVAX program. The first is for any country to join to get access to vaccines, and the second is a fund for wealthy countries to help low-income countries participate.

The Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and the Canadian Society for International Health have both criticized Canada for acting to buy doses of vaccine for itself, hindering efforts to ensure vaccines that are successful are distributed fairly around the world.

GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, said Monday that 64 wealthy countries had joined the COVAX Facility, including Canada. The United States has not joined.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2020.

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