Biomanufacturing series: Biologics Manufacturing Centre

Maria Aubrey: Building Canada's future pandemic response, today

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) gave Maria Aubrey an ambitious task: help build Canada's pandemic resiliency by overseeing the construction of the new Biologics Manufacturing Centre in Montréal—a task completed in an astonishingly fast 10-month period.

With the construction phase of the Biologics Manufacturing Centre complete, Maria, the NRC's Vice-President of Strategic Initiatives, can now reflect on how such a difficult task was accomplished so quickly. She credits the hard work and selflessness of her team. "A pandemic, or any emergency, brings people together," she says. "As soon as the COVID-19 crisis began, all relevant stakeholders immediately came together, identified what was needed and acted quickly—from putting the right investments in place to facilitating mobilization of critical components of the supply chain or coming up with new innovations very quickly."

Maria Aubrey

"The country just came together, recognizing that this was really important for the health and safety of Canadians."

Maria Aubrey

While Maria is quick to credit selfless actions across government departments and industry partners, her extensive project management experience guiding the process certainly had an impact on the project's success. "We were given a mandate with a clear scope. With a large project such as this, you can paralyze yourself in the decision-making process if you don't stay focused, stick to priorities and make decisions quickly."

She says that making the necessary decisions while taking calculated risks was one of the greatest challenges the team faced. "We accomplished so much so quickly by making timely decisions at each step and then relying on the expertise of the team to see them through while monitoring the results and having the ability to adjust and course-correct as needed."

What is next for Maria and her team? Continuing to work at an accelerated pace, they are now focusing on the commissioning, qualification and validation of the Biologics Manufacturing Centre in preparation for submitting an application to Health Canada for the facility's drug establishment licence, which demonstrates compliance with good manufacturing practices (GMP) and is required for all Canadian drug production facilities.

At the same time, the NRC is also working with the facility's first vaccine candidate sponsor, Novavax, on the technology transfer, which establishes the exact step-by-step process for producing the specific product at the Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

Maria sums up her motivation: "I was not born in Canada. I chose to be a Canadian. For me and the team, what we have been able to accomplish so far to help our country during such a critical time, it is an immensely proud achievement for everyone involved."

The Biologics Manufacturing Centre

On August 31, 2020, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced a Government of Canada investment of $126 million in the NRC to design, construct and certify a new biomanufacturing facility at its Royalmount site in Montréal.

Once fully operational, the Biologics Manufacturing Centre will be an end-to-end biomanufacturing facility used to manufacture vaccines and other therapeutics. It will have a bioreactor capacity of approximately 4,000 litres, which, based on 500 doses/L, could translate into approximately 2 million doses of a vaccine per month.

This investment in Canada's biomanufacturing industry will ensure that Canadians have an effective tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a cutting-edge facility to help protect Canadians from any future pandemics.

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