Charlottetown-based BioVectra, which manufactures pharmaceutical ingredients, has announced it will build one of Canada’s first mRNA vaccine manufacturing facilities in a project worth $76.9 million.

The federal government will pay $39.8 million of the total cost and the P.E.I. government $10 million, with the balance born by BioVectra.

The drugmaker was bought by private equity firm H.I.G. Capital, which now has about $44 billion of assets under management, in 2019 for US$250 million. At the time, it employed about 350 people with plans to hire 150 more.

“BioVectra is well poised to make the production of mRNA therapeutics in our country a reality,” said Biovectra CEO Oliver Technow in a press release.

“As a leading Canadian CDMO, with more than 50 years of expertise, we have a proven record of pushing the boundaries of our capabilities to meet our global customers’ challenges. This expansion is a significant yet natural evolution for us.”

The mRNA vaccine factory will rely on industrial fermentation, the same process offered to smaller startups by Sydney’s Verschuren Centre biotech hub.

Biovectra said in the press release it expects the technology to allow it to produce up to 160 million doses of mRNA vaccines — like those used to prevent COVID-19 — per year. It will be able to prepare and package about 70 million of those doses for distribution annually.

To run the facility, the company plans to hire about 125 full-time staff and as much as 225 co-op students at a time when P.E.I.’s biotech sector is already grappling with a labour shortage.

Last year, a study sponsored by the PEI BioAlliance found that the bioscience sector was the province’s second-largest export industry in 2018, but CEO Rory Francis said in an interview at the time that infrastructure and labour constraints represented obstacles to future growth.

“Growth does have consequences, and the consequence of what has been essentially a doubling of size of the sector over the 2012-2018 period has been that we’re out of space for early-stage companies to scale up manufacturing,” he said.