Quebec vaccine developer ditches tobacco giant shareholder

The Montreal-based COVID-19 vaccine developer Medicago has parted ways with tobacco giant Philip Morris.

The Quebec government said in June that it would help the company replace Philip Morris as a shareholder.

Medicago Inc. majority owner Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma announced on Monday that it has removed Philip Morris as a secondary investor following the World Health Organization’s rejection of Medicago’s Covifenz vaccine in March due to the corporate ties.

It is news that anti-smoking advocates are applauding.

“Tobacco corporations, vaccines and governments don’t mix well and we applaud the expulsion of Philip Morris from the Medicago collaboration,” said Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) executive director Les Hagen. “However, the control of one pandemic should not come at the expense of another. We are relieved that Canadian governments have washed their hands of this unethical and embarrassing collaboration with a tobacco giant.”

The Covifenz vaccine is the only one manufactured in Canada, which invested $173 million in the company in 2020. Health Canada licensed the jab for adults in February.

Mitsubishi is a 79 per cent shareholder in Medicago and the Marlboro producer – Philip Morris – owned the balance. Mitsubishi now owns 100 per cent of the company.

Philip Morris said in a statement that Medicago being owned by a single shareholder is the most “appropriate way forward.”

“We have long believed in the public health potential of Medicago’s innovative approach for developing new plant-based vaccines and we hope this potential is realized for the benefit of global public health,” said spokesperson Corey Henry in an email.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) prohibits tobacco industry players from collaborating in participating countries.

ASH says Canada has been defying this treaty by not avoiding tobacco industry interference.

“Now that Philip Morris has been ejected from this collaboration, we urge Canadian governments to fully comply with the treaty by closing the barn door on any future tobacco industry partnerships,” said Corporate Accountability’s tobacco campaign director Daniel Dorado. “The WHO FCTC is intended to shield governments from tobacco industry influence and collusion. We encourage all countries to meet their obligations under this important public health treaty to prevent any future industry manipulation and interference. Canada is viewed as a world leader in tobacco control. If Canada is vulnerable to tobacco industry interference, then so are many other countries.” 

Health Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson said that the agreement was not violated and that it “studied the matter of its investment in Medicago carefully and considers that it is compliant with its treaty obligations.” 

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