Quebec wants to help Medicago replace a lumbering shareholder

(Montreal) The Quebec government wants to help Medicago replace a lumbering shareholder that is preventing it from selling its vaccines internationally.

Posted at 5:24pm

Stephane Rolland
The Canadian Press

In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) rejected Quebec’s biopharmaceutical vaccine for COVID-19, which uses plants in its manufacturing process. The reason for the refusal is the presence of tobacco giant Philip Morris as a minority shareholder in the company, a decision linked to a UN agency directive passed in 2005.

Quebec wants to help the company replace the minority shareholder, Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said on the sidelines of an economic announcement in Montreal on Monday. “Medicago is a great Quebec company. You have several structuring development plans. So I want Medicago to be used in Quebec like they are doing. In addition, if we can facilitate the buyback of Philip Morris stock, we will do so. »

Medicago’s Covifenz vaccine was approved by Health Canada in February for adults ages 18 to 64. It is the only COVID-19 vaccine made in Canada. In December, the company claimed its two-dose vaccine was 71% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, according to a large study that included multiple variants, including Delta. The Company’s results do not include the emerging Omicron variant, which was not in circulation during the study period.

The federal government has signed a contract to purchase up to 76 million doses of Covifenz. Canada had planned to donate any excess dose of the vaccine to low-income countries through the COVAX vaccine-sharing alliance. Because the WHO rejected Medicago’s application, Canada cannot donate Covifenz doses.

ongoing negotiations

Mr Fitzgibbon held talks with Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma executives to resolve the impasse, but the Japanese company must first negotiate buying Philip Morris’ stake itself, he adds. “It will rather be up to Mitsubishi to buy its American partner Philipp Morris. It’s not up to us to do that. I offered that the government could attend. »

Mitsubishi owns 79% of Medicago. Philip Morris owns the remainder of the shares, or 21%.

Mistubishi turns to the Legault government for help. The company is asking for support so that Medicago’s vaccines can be “received positively by the WHO and commercialized at scale,” according to a recent entry in the Quebec Lobbyists Register. “Type, form and amount of funding are unknown,” said the company in the register.

When asked about the issue, Mr Fitzgibbon replied that he could not say what level of government financial support might be. “I don’t know the answer because Medicago has ambitious plans to expand its business. There may be other projects they want to do. »

Medicago is finalizing its business plan, which will be submitted to Mitsubishi, the minister adds. The provincial government could help with buying up Philip Morris shares or with “possible” expansion plans. Details have yet to be determined. “When it is finished [la présentation du plan de Medicago à Mitsubishi], we will sit down with Mitsubishi and say what we are ready to do. »

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