The cooperation between Russia's Gamaleya Center and AstraZeneca transnational company will change the perception of Russia in the world and will give an enormous potential to Moscow's "soft power."
On Monday, December 21, Russia's Gamaleya Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology and AstraZeneca company signed a memorandum of intent on the prevention of coronavirus. Russian President Vladimir Putin took direct part in the event.
At a videoconference dedicated to the signing of the memorandum, Putin expressed confidence that "such an attitude towards partnership can serve as a good example of combining scientific forces, technologies, investments to protect the life, health and safety of millions of people on the planet."
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, runs commercial activities of the Gamaleya Center), on his part, noted that RDIF and AstraZeneca was going to launch a study into the development of joint, combined vaccines against the coronavirus infection in three countries.
"We offered AstraZeneca to use one of the components of our vaccine to create another effective drug. AstraZeneca has accepted the offer from the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Gamaleya Center and will begin a clinical trial of its vaccine in combination with Sputnik serotype 26 adenovirus in the near future. The trial will be conducted in three countries, including the CIS and the Middle East," said Kirill Dmitriev, adding that the Russian company R-Pharm will be one of the sponsors of the study.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Sorio congratulated Russian scientists on the successful development of the Sputnik V vaccine.
"I would like to congratulate the Russian scientists of the Gamaleya Institute, as well as RDIF on the development of the world's first vaccine against COVID-19, which has recently demonstrated not only an immune response, but also effectiveness, protection against hospitalization," he said.
The combination of Sputnik V and AstraZeneca vaccines against coronavirus will ensure flexibility to the vaccination program, Pascal Sorio added.
AstraZeneca is a large Anglo-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company, one of the UK's most valuable listed companies. In 2020, the company acquired Alexion Pharmaceuticals (USA) for $39 billion, and paid the Japanese company Daiichi for the joint development of anticancer drugs last year and will pay $6.9 billion and $6 billion in 2020, respectively.
AstraZeneca and Oxford University developed a coronavirus vaccine based on monkey adenovirus vectors. It was this vaccine that the West initially pinned hopes on. London ordered 100 million doses in advance, the European Union - 300 million doses, the USA - 150 million doses.
However, during the trials, side effects began to be recorded, one of the volunteers died in Brazil. The vaccine showed an average efficacy of 70 percent when tested. Such a development significantly slowed down mass vaccination in the UK, the European Union, the United States, and strengthened competitive advantages of Sputnik V in the markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the least expensive (about $5 for two doses). In addition, it can be stored and transported in conventional refrigerators. These factors dramatically distinguish this vaccine from the US-German vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, which requires storage temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius.
The second component of this vaccine turned out to be ineffective; now its shortcomings can be corrected by adding a second component taken from the Russian Sputnik V, which is also a vector vaccine, but of human adenovirus.
Cooperation with Russia will retrieve a leading position for AstraZeneca in the Western vaccine market as value for money is always in demand.
The Sputnik V vaccine already has its own market. This is also an inexpensive and transportable vaccine that is effective for its combination with anti-influenza drugs. In addition, it has been tested on people over 60 years of age. Belarus will launch the production of the Russian vaccine in the first quarter of next year, and Kazakhstan has already started its production.
According to Kirill Dmitriev, more than 500 million doses of the Russian vaccine will be produced at foreign companies next year.
The Sputnik V vaccine has faced criticism in the West as unreliable because it was approved after it had been tested on only a few dozen people. However, it is obvious that there will be less biased criticism now.
The fact of Russia's participation in a joint project to produce a global vaccine against coronavirus in cooperation with a major Western company is a political move that has its influence on how Russia is seen in the West. For the Russian pharmaceutical industry, this means a breakthrough on the pharmaceutical market of the West, which has a huge lobby in Western governments. This is a "soft power" that Russia may use by Russia in the future to ease the pressure of sanctions, to say the least.