Current Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks to media during the Liberal cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Sudoma

Current Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks to media during the Liberal cabinet retreat in Winnipeg, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Sudoma

Canada not paying for tobacco company stake in vaccine-maker Medicago: minister

Canada has signed a contract to buy up to 76 million doses of Covifenz vaccine

The federal government isn’t considering putting up money to help buy shares in the only domestic manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, but it is “working on a solution” with Medicago’s parent company.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been in Japan for the past week, pitching Canada as a good location for production of electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.

While meeting with the presidents of Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma and Mitsubishi Chemical, which owns a 79 per cent stake in Medicago, Champagne says there were discussions about the company’s future as a global vaccine manufacturer.

Its biopharmaceutical vaccine has been rejected by the WHO because tobacco company Philip Morris is a minority shareholder, and the UN agency has a strict policy about engagement with the tobacco industry.

The Covifenz vaccine was licensed by Health Canada in February for adults aged 18 to 64, and the federal government has signed a contract to buy up to 76 million doses with plans to donate vaccines to low-income countries.

But the donations are not allowed without WHO approval.

Champagne says the government is working with the company to make Medicago “a global leader when it comes to global health.”

But that doesn’t include buying shares at this point.

“What we have been considering with respect to Medicago, as we have seen, we’ve already invested to strengthen their (research and development) capacity, their manufacturing capacity,” Champagne said.

“We will see what would be needed in order to make Medicago a global champion.”

Mitsubishi has approached the Quebec government for support so Medicago’s vaccines “can receive a favourable reception from the WHO and be marketed on a large scale,” according to an entry in the Quebec Registry of Lobbyists.

“The nature, form and amount of funding are unknown,” the company states in the registry.

Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said in June that he has been in discussions with Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma executives to resolve the impasse, but the Japanese company must first negotiate the purchase of Philip Morris’s stake itself.

—The Canadian Press

RELATED: WHO rejects Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine, will review decision

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