The provincial government has committed $15.5 million in funding to Entos Pharmaceuticals to establish a new commercial manufacturing facility in Edmonton, which would produce vaccines as well as future genetic medicines.
The clinical-stage biotechnology company will have to secure financial support from the federal government as well in order to access the provincial funding, but if Entos is successful in doing so, it plans to build the facility within 12 months.
"That would mean that we could manufacture our Covigenix (COVID-19) vaccine in Edmonton for Canadians and for users internationally," Entos CEO John Lewis told Taproot. "We could also offer our other partners (in genetic medicine development) the ability to manufacture both on a clinical scale for clinical trials, but also a commercial scale for approved drugs right in Edmonton."
The facility will cost about $80 million, with the rest of the Entos funding request to the provincial government bringing the total amount to $155 million. It would use the other funds to complete the clinical development of its COVID-19 vaccine, which is entering the second stage of clinical trials in South Africa.
The company is hoping the federal government will provide half of the total cost of the project, and Entos would put up the remaining money itself, said Lewis. If the funding isn't secured, he expects it will delay the building of the facility by six months to a year.
"It's a dance," Lewis said, explaining that the announcement sends a message to the federal government that Alberta is investing in biomanufacturing.
"If we want rapid access to vaccines and if we want to be protected against new variants, we need to establish domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity. But without government support, it's unlikely to be in Edmonton."
The provincial government also announced funding for several other proposals focused on vaccine development and manufacturing: $5 million to Northern RNA to help build the RNA ecosystem in the province; $55.1 million for four University of Alberta projects, and $5.6 million to Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) to build an integrated research, commercialization and manufacturing cluster that will aim to ensure "security of supply of critical medicines at commercial volumes."
API CEO Andrew MacIsaac told Taproot that Edmonton has a significant role to play within the life sciences manufacturing sector, and the region offers an advantage due to its low-cost environment paired with top post-secondary institutions like the University of Alberta.
"The city is already home to Gilead's active pharmaceutical ingredient plant; by adding a number of other 'anchor tenants' producing for a domestic or international market, we'll see a large number of follow-on investments in the years to come," MacIsaac said.
"While the Entos facility (may result in) in the dozens of jobs, the impact of the funding in the broader, longer term could lead to thousands of jobs as we build the sector."
MacIsaac added that API is working with the other recipients of the province's funding to help support their ability to establish operations.
Federal Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told the Canadian Press this week that Canada's biomanufacturing sector has rebounded beyond expectations. Quebec City's Medicago received $173 million in government funding to develop a plant-based COVID-19 vaccine and manufacturing plant, and there are several other vaccine facilities in the works in Ontario and Quebec.