Russian Investment Fund Responds To Allegations Of Vaccine Theft
Last month, the Russian government said that at least one of two pharmaceutical companies working on a vaccine for SARS-Cov-2 had successfully completed a phase two trial and was heading into the final phase this month. It should have been seen as good news in a world clamoring for an end to the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918.
Almost immediately came allegations from Canada and the U.K. that the Russians had stolen vaccine formulas, and for this reason, they were further along in the race for a Covid vaccine.
The news traveled fast. Russians were up to no good again. The good news of a successful trial was taken away and in its place, albeit briefly, were doubts that the Russians did it on their own.
Some close Russia watchers and even one off record Russian in the pharmaceutical sciences told me that he doubted there was any theft, as the Russians are capable of doing this themselves. But he also doubted the scale at which they could quickly roll out a vaccine if one proved successful, let alone commercialize it.
That seemed to be the base case view that didn’t match the official Russian view — which was have are making progress on a vaccine; it’s performed well on a few dozen patients with little to no side effects. And now they are going into the third trial with more people, different dosages, to see if it works. That’s the story.
Instead, the fact that the Russians were as much a part of the global vaccine race as the Europeans, Americans, Canadians and the Chinese, gave way to “the Russians stole it.”
I do not know if they stole it. They said they did not. They also said they did not help President Trump beat Hillary in 2016, and were not part of some grand scheme to do so. Which was true, based on the findings of the Mueller Report into Russian collusion.
So, assuming they can launch the first man and woman into space and build defense equipment that rivals the U.S., they can probably make vaccines, at the very least.
I asked the director of the state run venture capital firm — the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) — whose companies were blamed for stealing formulas to respond.
For starters, the 9-year old fund has $10 billion under management. They do joint investment into companies with partners from Italy, Germany, Japan, South Korea, India and China, to name a few. All of the investments are in Russia.
They have investments in two biotech firms working on Covid-19 vaccines, including R-Pharm and Alium. Neither of those two companies were accused directly.
RDIF’s CEO Kirill Dmitriev said the Russian vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow and is based on an already existing vaccine platform that was approved for fighting Ebola as early as 2015 and another vaccine for MERS.
“I myself was a volunteer in the previous clinical trials for the Russian Covid-19 vaccine and have developed a strong immunity,” Dmitriev says.
“Our portfolio company R-Pharm reached an agreement with AstraZeneca for the Oxford University vaccine to be manufactured in Russia. Russia will be one of the hubs for the production and supply of vaccines to international markets and will have an exclusive right to distribute the Astra Zeneca vaccine for CIS countries, Middle East and some others,” he says. “Russia can offer spare capacity and capability in producing this vaccine, in addition to its own vaccine being developed by the Gamaleya Institute, which is critical for meeting the global demand. Any allegations based on theft are unsubstantiated,” he says.
They expect phase three clinical trials to be completed and the vaccine registered in Russia at some point this month. Production would begin in September, meaning it would be one of the first countries in the world with its own home-grown vaccine if phase three clinical trials are successful.
RDIF also has investments in ChemRar Group, which is the drug maker behind Avifavir – the first Covid-19 therapeutic registered in Russia.
RDIF joined forces with Japan’s K.K. Mirai Genomics in May where the Fund invested in the production and distribution of the Russian-Japanese diagnostic system called Evotech-Mirai Genomics, a lab diagnostic machine that can detect coronavirus in roughly a half hour. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation is also behind that project.
Russia trails the U.S., Brazil and India as the fourth hardest hit by the coronavirus, first found in China in December 2019. The world has been dealing with this for more than half of the year now, with no end in sight.
“I have never seen such global partnership and coordination for the development of a vaccine,” says Hans Kluge, regional director of Europe for the World Health Organization. “My concern isn’t when and where the vaccine comes from, but will there be equal access to the vaccine?” says Kluge.