The chief executive of a Canadian biotechnology firm that specializes in messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines is slamming the federal government’s performance on the domestic COVID-19 vaccine front.

“The Canadian government has been abysmal on this file. They’ve done the absolute minimum possible to support Providence and other Canadian biotech,” said Brad Sorenson, president and CEO of Providence Therapeutics, in an interview Monday.

“They’ve sent hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign pharmaceutical companies trying to get them to set up branch plants in Canada and have overpaid significantly for vaccines. We could’ve been supplying vaccines to the world and we could’ve been adding to the solution as opposed to driving up prices and adding to the problem,” he said.

His comments come on the same day that Providence Therapeutics announced a licensing deal for the rights to its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine with Chinese biopharma firm Everest Medicines Ltd.

Everest will pay Providence US$100 million in cash for access to the mRNA technology.

The terms of the deal also include up to US$100 million in profit sharing and up to an additional US$300 million in stock if Everest develops other products using the mRNA platform.

Sorenson blasted the federal government for what he described as a lack of support in the crucial initial months of the pandemic to develop COVID vaccines domestically, and said instead, the feds allowed billions of dollars to flow out of the country to foreign vaccine makers. 

“In March of 2020, we were one month behind Moderna,” he said. “Moderna received a billion dollars in support from Warp Speed and you can see where they’re at now. Providence received no support from the Canadian government until almost a year later and even then, we received $10 million which is nominal at best.”

Operation Warp Speed was a program launched by the former Trump administration in May last year to fund American biotech firms with the aim of developing a COVID vaccine as quickly as possible.


A spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada refuted Sorensen’s claims, stating the Canadian government has made major investments to support several national biotech firms including B.C.’s Precision NanoSystems Inc. and Quebec-based Medicago Inc..

“The level of support provided to firms has been based on the best available scientific evidence, with firms receiving funding under the Strategic Innovation Fund having the most advanced drug candidates and a clear capacity to deliver drugs to market,” the spokesperson said.

“We recognized the potential of Providence Therapeutics’ technology and we provided them with significant early financial support – $10 million – to assist in the development of their first-ever vaccine. We confirmed months ago our intention to provide support for their Phase 2 trials and the interim steps, to avoid any interruption in their work."

Presuming there are no further delays, Providence expects to enter Phase 3 trials and seek regulatory authorization by the first half of next year. 

Sorenson said his company’s deal with Everest is a vote of confidence in its mRNA technology.

“Our vaccine stacks up extraordinarily well against our peers in the class of mRNA vaccines,” he said. “And now we’re seeing commercial validation as other countries and other companies see the results – they’re stepping up and they’re doing something about it.”

He said Providence has the infrastructure in place to begin ramping up manufacturing in Canada, despite the lack of domestic support.

“There’s no excuse for what the Canadian government did. They completely dropped the ball. It’s just inexcusable,” he said.