Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Brigitte Kiecken, president of Biolyse Pharma, is hoping the Canadian government will allow her St. Catharines company to produce, or at a minimum, package COVID-19 vaccines at its factory helping to reduce the global vaccine shortage.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Whenever he needs motivation for his fight to expand vaccine production, John Fulton thinks of a family member: a 67-year-old woman in Kenya who died of COVID-19 this month.

“They tried to get her to hospital, but all the hospitals in her area were full,” said Mr. Fulton, a consultant at Biolyse Pharma in St. Catharines, Ont.

“It’s a war zone there,” he said, describing the surge of pandemic deaths in Kenya. “This is what drives us.”

Story continues below advertisement

Canada vaccine tracker: How many COVID-19 doses have been administered so far?

Tracking Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans: A continuing guide

Coronavirus tracker: How many COVID-19 cases are there in Canada and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

As global shortages become more severe and vaccine inequities grow sharper, Biolyse believes it could help bridge the gap by producing up to 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines annually.

But to do so, it needs to win approvals from the federal government – a difficult challenge so far, and an example of the bureaucratic and corporate obstacles that hinder the task of expanding vaccine supplies globally.

“We have the equipment and facilities and the engineering and the staff,” Biolyse president Brigitte Kiecken said. “We could have done this quite rapidly. But it’s been brick wall after brick wall, and lots of confusion and not knowing what’s going on.”

Federal officials say the problem is that Canadian companies such as Biolyse are too small to be of interest to the major manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines.

With the exception of factories that are already making critical products such as polio vaccines, “Canadian biomanufacturing assets were of a scale which was not of interest to these firms,” said John Power, a spokesperson for François-Philippe Champagne, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

“Manufacturing capacity for vaccines is often purpose-built, and pivoting production capacity takes time,” he said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Globe and Mail.

The global needs are stark and extreme. While many wealthy countries are rapidly vaccinating their populations, most poorer countries are far behind. Of the 690 million vaccine doses administered worldwide so far, for example, less than 2 per cent have been in Africa.

Story continues below advertisement

“Limited stocks and supply bottlenecks are putting COVID-19 vaccines out of reach of many people in this region,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the Africa director for the World Health Organization, in a statement on Thursday.

Kenya has been engulfed in a tidal wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths in recent weeks, but it has struggled to obtain vaccines in the midst of the global shortage. It expects to vaccinate only 22 per cent of its population by the middle of next year.

“How many more mothers-in-law are going to die in that period of time?” Mr. Fulton asked, thinking of his brother’s relative.

Biolyse, which normally produces cancer drugs, believes it is one of the few companies in Canada with the capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines this year. If it wins approval, it could be manufacturing the vaccines within six months. A number of lower-income countries have already expressed interest in buying vaccines from Biolyse, the company says.

But the company has been trying to catch the attention of Ottawa and the major vaccine manufacturers for nearly a year – with almost no success. When it approached Johnson & Johnson, the U.S.-based company said it was not interested.

It may have finally made a breakthrough this week when it won a meeting with about 20 officials from four federal departments. “Someone is finally listening,” Mr. Fulton told The Globe in an interview on Thursday. “I found it encouraging.”

Story continues below advertisement

Biolyse is hoping to use the provisions of Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime, or CAMR, a rarely used law that was introduced in 2004 to help Canadian companies produce life-saving medicine such as HIV drugs for humanitarian use in lower-income countries, even when these drugs are under patent by other companies.

If Biolyse can persuade the federal government to add COVID-19 vaccines to a required list under the Patent Act, it could proceed with making vaccines for export under a compulsory licence from the CAMR system, possibly using the vaccine technology that was patented by Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca.

This would create jobs in Canada, while helping the government fulfill its promise of helping poorer countries that have limited access to vaccines, Ms. Kiecken said in a letter to federal officials in late March.

The CAMR law has “basically been forgotten,” Mr. Fulton said. “The phone number was disconnected, and it took us a month to find someone. But if you can’t do this in the middle of a pandemic, when can you do it? People are dying. We don’t have time for niceties.”

Knowledge Ecology International, a U.S.-based non-profit group that focuses on social justice in intellectual property issues, said the CAMR process is “rife with unanswered questions and dead ends.”

It noted that the federal CAMR website contains only two contact numbers, of which one is an invalid number and the other did not respond. Application forms for compulsory licences under CAMR are not readily available, it said, and the entire application process is “convoluted and difficult.”

Story continues below advertisement

Riyadh Nazerally, a spokesperson for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development department, confirmed that federal officials met with Biolyse this week to discuss the compulsory licensing process.

The government has provided details to the company on the “regulatory and technical requirements” for applications under the CAMR process, he said.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies