Sputnik V: The unknown oligarch behind the Russian vaccine

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In Russia, the name Sputnik stands for innovation, progress and one of the greatest Soviet successes in history. When the satellite was the first human object to reach Earth’s orbit in 1957, the sensation triggered a so-called “Sputnik shock” in the West. Now, over 60 years later, with its own corona vaccine Sputnik V, Russia is once again boasting that it was the first to develop an effective vaccine against the pandemic. The name could not have been chosen more appropriately, because this realization is currently causing astonishment among many in the USA and the EU, but it calls at least as many skeptics on the scene. But who is actually behind the production of the vaccine?

The man behind the manufacture of the vaccine is the unknown Russian oligarch Dmitrij Morozov. His pharmaceutical company Biocad produces the vaccine, which has already been approved in almost 50 countries, on an area of ​​24,000 square meters on an area of ​​24,000 square meters in one of the most modern facilities in the country. Morozov is one of the country’s top entrepreneurs and, in addition to his work as General Director of Biocad, also owns the Russian rugby team Narva Zastava from Saint Petersburg, in which he invests 1.5 million euros annually and which will be widely featured in the future The lettering “Sputnik V” will be there.

Because the vaccine is the current flagship project of the entrepreneur and the entire country. Sputnik V was the first vaccine worldwide to be approved in Russia in August. The vaccine was developed at the Gamaleja Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow. The project was funded by several million rubles from the Russian RDFI fund.

The pharmaceutical company behind the vaccine

In the EU and the USA in particular, people are skeptical of the Russian vaccine. It is repeatedly criticized that the vaccine was approved before the evaluation of clinical studies in Russia and that even today scientists do not have access to all the data. Nevertheless, Sputnik V advanced to become an export hit. Many countries across the globe – from Argentina to Egypt to Vietnam – have ordered millions of doses of the vaccine.

But here, too, Russia – like various other vaccine manufacturers – has to struggle with delivery bottlenecks. The vaccine does not arrive wherever it was ordered. The project is also facing headwinds at home. According to surveys, only a third of all Russians want to be vaccinated with the vaccine.

Morozov and his company Biocad are staunchly behind the vaccine, which they are now producing on a large scale and delivering worldwide. Biocad is not an unknown name in the pharmaceutical industry. The company is well networked in the industry and has been manufacturing drugs against cancer and HIV for years. The US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which is now producing its own vaccine together with Biontech from Germany, even wanted to take over Biocad in the past. But the deal never came off. Morozov himself still holds 30 percent of the shares in the company and invests accordingly. It was only in September 2020 that the pharmaceutical company established one of the most modern production facilities in the country in Zelenograd north of Moscow.

2,500 employees work for the company – 1,500 of them currently only at Sputnik V. In addition, the group is also developing a drug for the lung disease Covid-19. A camera team from “Spiegel TV” got a rare glimpse into the production of the vaccine outside of Saint Petersburg. There are strict safety precautions in the factory. Nothing should stand in the way of Sputnik V’s success.

Complexity inhibits manufacturing

So far, according to the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, ten million doses of the vaccine have been produced. However, much more is needed to guarantee deliveries to other countries and to vaccinate one’s own population. The manufacture of the vaccine is also more difficult because of the type of vaccine.

Unlike the vaccines from Pfizer / Biontech and Moderna, Sputnik V is a vector-based vaccine. With this type of vaccine, fragments of the genetic material of the coronavirus are accommodated in weakened viruses such as adenoviruses. The adenoviruses serve as a means of transport to bring the genetic information of the coronavirus into the human body. The body cells then react to the genetic information and produce the protein of the virus. The immune system then recognizes the structure of the viral protein and develops the necessary antibodies in the body.

With Sputnik V, however, two different adenoviruses are accommodated in the two required doses, which are administered every three weeks. While this makes the vaccine more effective, it also increases the complexity of manufacture. However, the desired effect can be seen from the data that have so far been disclosed to the public. Accordingly, Sputnik V has an effectiveness of almost 92 percent and is therefore on a level with the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer / Biontech and Moderna – at least officially.

For the oligarch Morozov, the reluctance of the EU countries is incomprehensible. He criticizes vaccine nationalism and the bureaucracy in the EU. In addition to Sputnik V, two other national vaccines have now been approved in Russia: CoviVac and EpiVacCorona. The EMA is currently reviewing the EU-wide approval of Sputnik V.


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