There has been much mockery of these claims, but the government agency behind these claims has a good record, and the model, that of a government research and development taking medical products from start to finish appears to have more potential than the current western, “Throw money at contemptible greed-heads,” model:
When Russia announced this week that it had granted the world’s first regulatory approval for a Covid-19 vaccine after just two months of human trials, many in the global pharmaceutical community were aghast at how quickly Moscow had deemed it safe to use.
Russia’s drug companies were comparatively small, little was known of the institute credited with the breakthrough and key steps needed to approve a shot for use had not been completed, critics said. But the man behind the vaccine insists instead that the success has been two decades in the making.
“[The speed] is not surprising if you understand the science behind it,” said Alexander Gintsburg, director of the state-run Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which says it has worked on adenoviral vaccines like its Covid-19 shot since the 1980s.
“In the absence of global health threats in recent decades, vaccine research has been on the fringes of the global pharmaceutical industry while Russian labs continued their research,” he told the Financial Times. “We are proud of the legacy of Russian science, which allowed us to develop the Covid-19 vaccine very quickly.”
Defending the decision to roll out public vaccinations of what is still in effect an experimental drug, the Russian government and other supporters have pointed to the successful Ebola vaccine developed by Mr Gintsburg and his colleagues in 2015, the Gamaleya Institute’s most well-known previous success. Sputnik V is based on the same technology.
“The fact that Russian scientists can develop, and the Russian pharmaceutical industry can produce, drugs requiring intensive scientific research has long been no secret,” Mr Bespalov added. “In Russia, there is a background of serious scientific schooling, a plethora of scientists and organisations to back them up and significant historical experience.”
“Russia does not have any leading pharma companies. Most of its pharma research takes place in state institutions and less information comes out about it than from western or Chinese researchers,” said Rasmus Bech Hansen, chief executive of Airfinity, a London-based science analytics company.
In contrast to vaccines being developed in the UK and the US, where the government’s role has been to provide financial grants and advance purchase orders to private companies and researchers, Russia’s vaccine development has been wholly state-managed.
The Gamaleya Institute is government-controlled, the vaccine was funded by the sovereign wealth fund and an employee of the ministry of defence is named as an author of the vaccine. Senior government officials were given preapproval injections.
I don’t know if government run vaccine research is a good model for vaccine development, but I do know that relying on the tender mercies of the for profit pharmaceutical industry is a bad model for vaccine development.