The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre (BMC) is manufacturing three COVID-19 vaccines for human clinical trials, filling a critical gap in Canada’s vaccine manufacturing capacity.
“It has been amazing to see the rapid development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, but we can’t stop now,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “If we’re going to vaccinate every person in Canada and around the world, we need more vaccines, more research and more manufacturing capacity. Strengthening our capacity now is crucial not only for the fight against COVID-19, but also for many other diseases.”
The first COVID-19 vaccine that BMC will help manufacture is a DNA-based vaccine called Covigenix VAX-001, developed by Entos Pharmaceuticals in Alberta. It has shown promise in laboratory studies and is stable at room temperature, meaning it could easily be transported, stored, and administered to all Canadians, as well as to people in developing countries or remote regions worldwide without specialized equipment. This vaccine will be jointly manufactured by BMC and Alberta Cell Therapy Manufacturing (ACTM) for clinical trials at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology.
BMC is also manufacturing two other COVID-19 vaccines for clinical trials, with details to be released at a later date.
Vaccine manufacturing is a complex process requiring specialized “clean room” facilities and highly trained staff. With more than 40 experienced staff and various kinds of advanced equipment, BMC can manufacture many different types of vaccines, including those based on live viruses, DNA, mRNA and other technologies. BMC staff are also trained to place vaccines and drugs in vials for small-scale clinical use. This process, called fill finish, is currently a large unmet need in Canada and abroad.
At this time, BMC is only producing experimental COVID-19 vaccines for clinical trials, but if capacity were expanded, BMC could theoretically help in manufacturing approved vaccines for use in the general population as well.
“Our Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre is the most experienced facility of its kind in Canada, having successfully manufactured more than a dozen different biotherapeutics for human clinical trials in Canada and around the world over the last 10 years,” said Dr. Stewart. “In addition to vaccines, we have manufactured cancer-fighting viruses, stem cell therapies, CAR-T therapies and more.”
BMC is also currently manufacturing a cell-based therapy for a clinical trial in patients with severe COVID-19. This trial will soon be expanding from The Ottawa Hospital to other centres in Canada.
BMC has been supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research Fund, BioCanRx (a Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence) and generous donors to The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. BMC also has a partnership with Algonquin College, the University of Ottawa and Mitacs to lead the only hands-on training program in Canada in biotherapeutics manufacturing.
The Ottawa Hopsital