Coronavirus: Russia ‘could have Covid-19 vaccine by September’, official claims
- The comments came after Britain, the US and Canada accused hackers working with Russian military intelligence of trying to seize vaccine research
- Some Western experts remain sceptical that Russia has the expertise to produce its own vaccine within the allotted time frame
“Everything that is needed to produce the British vaccine has already been transferred to R-Pharm,” he said. “AstraZeneca has already signed commitments to transfer all production of the British vaccine to R-Pharm.”
AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is not clear whether AstraZeneca would transfer all the technology needed for Russia to produce the vaccine or if the agreement involves the British pharmaceutical giant sending the vaccine seed stock to manufacturers needed to begin production. Some Western experts remain sceptical that Russia has the expertise to produce its own vaccine by September.
“We don’t think that’s realistic,” said Peter Shapiro, a pharmaceutical analyst at the research firm GlobalData, cautioning that Russia, like other countries, could approve the vaccine for political reasons. “The regulatory hurdles in Russia are low.”
Nor is it likely that such a vaccine, if indeed approved in Russia, would find favour in the West, Shaprio said.
“We don’t see a history of innovative vaccines being developed in Russia that win approval” in major markets like the US, Japan and western Europe, he said. “Russia is not a major producer of export quality drugs or biologics.”
Dmitriev said he is so confident in Russia’s leading vaccine candidate that he has taken it himself and had his whole family vaccinated, including his parents, who are in their seventies. The vaccine, financed by RDIF and developed by the state-backed Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, has completed a phase 1 trial in 50 people, all of whom are members of the Russian military. The institute has not published results.
The vaccine is one of 26 experimental shots in development in Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said on July 15. Gamaleya’s candidate is a viral vector vaccine based on a human adenovirus – a common cold virus – fused with the spike protein of Sars CoV-2 to stimulate an immune response. It is similar to a vaccine China’s CanSino Biologics intends to move into trials in Canada, one of the countries targeted by Russian hackers. Initial results from CanSino’s trial showed the vaccine had a diminished effect in some people who had a pre-existing immunity to the adenovirus.
Besides manufacturing vaccines for AstraZeneca, R-Pharm will make the country’s own vaccine at its production sites in Russia. Alium Pharmaceutical Holding, based in Moscow and owned by billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov’s Sistema PJFSC, has also agreed to manufacture doses of Russia’s leading vaccine candidate, Dmitriev said.
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Russia’s rapid approach to vaccine development differs from western Europe and the US, where researchers typically run phase 3 trials for months to show safety and effectiveness. In another unusual move, Dmitriev said the vaccine has been given to “a significant” number of volunteers, both as part of and outside the formal trial. The director of the Gamaleya Institute said he and some of his staff tried the vaccine on themselves before the official trials started, RIA Novosti reported in May. Analysts have questioned Russia’s rushed unorthodox approach.
“The current situation with the vaccine looks like a race and sufficient clinic testing hasn’t been done,” said Sergey Shulyak, chief executive officer at Moscow-based consulting company DSM Group.