Moderna’s future Montreal-area production facility is part of a long-term commitment to Quebec by the U.S. vaccine maker that will represent hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, officials said.
The $180-million plant, which is expected to open in late 2024, will have an annual production capacity of up to 100 million doses, Moderna chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel said Friday at a news conference at McGill University. The Massachusetts-based company will also invest in research and development in Canada as part of a 10-year strategic partnership, he said. The deal comes almost nine months after the CEO signed an agreement with the federal government to set up a factory in Canada — the biotech firm’s first manufacturing site to be located outside the U.S.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, which Bancel said cost about US$3 billion in research and development, will be produced in Montreal. A range of mRNA vaccines that could combat viruses such as seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus will also be manufactured here. The vaccines must be approved by regulatory authorities.
“The heart of this announcement is to be ready for future potential pandemics,” Patricia Gauthier, head of Moderna’s Canadian unit, said at the news conference.
“We’re trying to accelerate vaccine development for the entire world,” Bancel said. “Our sole objective, I would say our obsession, is accelerating drugs to help people.”
Terms of the financing agreement aren’t being disclosed for now because they’re still being finalized, said Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon. Details will be shared later, he said.
Underscoring the political importance of the announcement, Fitzgibbon was one of six ministers from the federal and Quebec governments to speak at the press conference — which also featured addresses by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault. The federal minister of innovation and science, François-Philippe Champagne, as well as federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and his provincial counterpart, Christian Dubé, also took part.
“We’re going to be inventing the future of vaccines right here in Canada,” Champagne said. “You’re not talking only about respiratory vaccines. You’re talking about rare diseases, you’re talking about cancer. This is going to be boosting the research sector like we’ve not seen in a long time.”
Moderna is still scouting for a site and hasn’t yet decided where to build the production facility, Champagne said. Mayor Valérie Plante said Thursday that the facility would be located on the Island of Montreal.
Ottawa’s deal with Moderna also includes a “long-term” accord to purchase vaccines, Champagne said. He didn’t provide specifics, saying only that he expects the company to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” in Canada over the span of the partnership.
“We want to make sure that we can be first in line when it comes to a pandemic,” he said.
Including construction, operations and research and development, Moderna plans to create “hundreds of jobs” with the investment, Gauthier said. The plant will strengthen Quebec’s life sciences industry and help develop an expertise in bio-fabrication, she said.
Moderna will also develop co-operative and internship positions that will be offered to universities in Quebec and across Canada, Gauthier said. The company recently announced a deal with McGill to give researchers at the university access to mRNA vaccine data. McGill principal Suzanne Fortier said at Friday’s event that she looks forward to partnership opportunities with Moderna.
“This is just the beginning,” Gauthier said.
Bancel praised the Quebec government for having deployed “unprecedented” efforts to support the population during the pandemic. He also thanked Ottawa for having become one of Moderna’s first partners at the start of the pandemic by placing a vaccine order and providing the company with money to buy raw materials.
“People forget,” he said. “Moderna was losing money in 2020. We didn’t have the financial strength to get this industrial machine going. Canada was one of the few countries here to help.”
Quebec’s interest in luring Moderna is twofold. On an economic level, the company’s “well-paid jobs” will result in additional fiscal income for the province, Legault said. The plant will also ensure Quebec has early access to vaccines to deal with future health crises, he said.
“Whether it’s medical equipment or vaccines, we can’t afford to wait to be served after others,” Legault said. “We have to be able to produce here to serve the people of Quebec.”
Visibly jubilant, Legault couldn’t resist pointing out that Quebec beat out Ontario for the new facility. Developing the life sciences ecosystem should help Quebec cut the wealth gap with its western neighbour, he said.
“It’s a matter of pride,” he said. “I’m happy to see Quebec win today.”
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