Mitsubishi Chemical Group has decided to discontinue operations at Medicago Inc. in Quebec City, a manufacturer of a vaccine against COVID-19. Covifenz, developed by Medicago and based on a plant virus, was given the go light by Health Canada a year ago and promoted as a homegrown vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.
The World Health Organization rejected Medicago’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in March due to the vaccine manufacturer’s ties to the tobacco industry. Philip Morris International, maker of the ubiquitous Marlboro brand of cigarettes, was an early investor in Medicago but sold its whole stake in the company in the latter half of 2022.
Established in 1997, Medicago Inc. is now wholly owned by Japanese pharmaceutical giant Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma. Mitsubishi Chemical Group, Medicago’s owner, released a statement on Thursday saying the company has decided to stop marketing Covifenz due to “significant changes” in the vaccine market and a thorough analysis of the current global demand.
Additionally, “the group judged that it was not viable to continue investing in the commercialization of Medicago’s development products,” according to the statement, “and therefore chose to terminate all its activities with Medicago and proceed with an orderly dissolution of its business affairs and activities.”
The statement claims that during liquidation, Medicago’s business and regular operating activities will be drastically scaled back and refocused. According to applicable rules and regulations, “dissolution processes will be held in due course.”
The federal government has spent $173 million on Medicago. To aid in the development of both the vaccine and the Quebec production plant, the Canadian federal government committed $173 million in the company in 2020. Canada’s capital of Ottawa agreed to purchase 20 million doses of the vaccine, with an additional 56 million doses available if needed.
Medicago’s method relies on the nicotiana benthamiana plant species, a relative of tobacco plants that is widely employed in drug discovery due to the wide variety of viruses that can infect it.
Covifenz was licensed after tests showed a 71% success rate against all viral variants when given as a two-dose injection, with a higher success rate of 75% against COVID-19 infections caused by the delta version.
Preliminary and exploratory data shows that Covifenz produces neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant,” Health Canada stated at the time. Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand expressed his sadness over the loss of Medicago on Twitter on Thursday.
The families affected by today’s tragic events are in his prayers. “We have to put in some serious elbow grease to preserve all this talent in the field of health innovation in Quebec.”