As the English-language science and financial press focuses on vaccine candidates created by Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech or AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, we've seen surprisingly little reported about a Russian vaccine candidate that has already been administered to members of the Russian business elite.
With Moderna reportedly planning to charge an outrageous $60 per course for its experimental vaccine candidate, Russia is hoping to beat its western rivals to the punch by registering the coronavirus vaccine by Aug. 10-12, clearing the way for Russia to secure the mantle of winning the first official approval of a vaccine targeting SARS-CoV-2.
After winning approval, the vaccine developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute (bolstered by financing from the Russian government) could be approved for civilian use within 7 days.
Here's more from Bloomberg:
The drug developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute and the Russian Direct Investment Fund may be approved for civilian use within three to seven days of registration by regulators, according to a person familiar with the process, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
The Gamaleya vaccine is expected to get conditional registration in August, meaning it will still need to conduct trials on another 1,600 people, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said in a televised meeting of officials with President Vladimir Putin Wednesday. Production should begin in September, she said.
"The key requirements for a vaccine are its proven effectiveness and safety so everything needs to be done very carefully and accurately," Putin said at the end of the meeting. “Our confidence in the vaccine must be absolute."
To be sure, the speed with which the vaccine has been developed, and the opacity surrounding the research, have raised questions abroad. But not enough to stop Phase 3 trials that are set to begin next week in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Russia has the fourth-largest outbreak in the world, after the US, Brazil and India. With more than 800,000 confirmed cases.
While the vaccine has been touted by its developers as safe and potentially the first to reach the public, the data hasn’t been published and the speed with which developers are moving has raised questions in other countries. Gamaleya is scheduled to begin Phase 3 trials next week in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Russia has more than 800,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the fourth-most in the world. While the number of new daily infections is down by more than half from its peak, Putin has reportedly criticized some regions of the country for reopening too quickly.
"The situation remains difficult and can, as they say, swing in any direction," Putin said. "There is no reason for complacency, to relax, to forget about the recommendations of doctors."
Researchers and pharmaceutical companies in other countries including the US, the UK, Japan and China are also racing to develop vaccines. And both the US and the UK have accused Russia for sending shadowy state-backed hackers to infiltrate vaccine research in the UK and the US. Despite the risks, rushing a product to market would be a great PR victory for Putin, whose popularity has reportedly been sagging due to the outbreak, which his government failed to prevent.
The Russian vaccine will be provided to health professionals before clinical trials are complete, according to the Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko. The ministry doesn't expect vaccine to be widely available until late in the year.