Linda McQuaig looks back forty years, to when biotech was part of the Canadian landscape:
It's hard to believe it has come to this. Forty years ago, when a biotech industry was just a gleam in Fidel Castro's eye, Canada had already made it to the top.
We already had one of the world's leading biotech firms -- Connaught Labs, a publicly owned enterprise that had developed and produced its own vaccines for seven decades, and whose research scientists were considered among the best in the world.
Cuba, on the other hand, had only a modest lab with six technicians. But Castro had a dream -- creating an innovative biotech industry to produce vaccines for Cubans and others in developing countries often ignored by big pharma.
Then came Brian Mulroney. And he had an agenda:
Brian Mulroney had a different dream -- privatizing Canada's public enterprises in line with requests from the business community. So, in the 1980s, the Mulroney government sold Connaught Labs, then one of the world's most innovative vaccine developers.
He sold out the resources we need now. And we're in a spot. To solve our problem, Justin Trudeau is forming a public-private marriage. The old Connought plant -- now owned by Sanofi-Pasteur -- will produce vaccines for Canada and other countries.
That is not a solution. On the contrary, it's a reckless use of a lot of public money.
Ottawa is in ongoing negotiations with Sanofi over a contract aimed at giving Canadians priority access to vaccines produced at the Connaught plant during a future pandemic, federal industry minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said last week.
But surely it would have been better to postpone announcing the $415 million until after Sanofi had agreed to the government's terms about priority access for Canadians.
Without that nailed down, we can just keep our fingers crossed that Sanofi will come through for us in the future.
The situation reveals how much Canada is at the mercy of the powerful drug industry now that we no longer have a domestic vaccine capacity that we control.
Indeed, Sanofi might use its negotiations with Ottawa to push hard on another issue that's important to Sanofi and other big pharma companies.
In December 2017, big pharma was outraged when the Trudeau government announced changes to the Patented Medicines Regulations aimed at reducing patented drug prices by billions of dollars.
Big pharma has retaliated by not submitting 39 drugs, including treatments for cancer and Parkinson's, to Health Canada for approval, citing uncertainty over the proposed changes.
With big pharma effectively holding a gun to Canada's head, the Trudeau government has twice postponed implementing the tough new regulations, now delayed until July 1.
It's a textbook case of how Disaster Capitalism works.
Image: Mother Jones