Putin lauds AstraZeneca as it signs vaccine tie-up deal with Russia
By Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday welcomed the decision by UK drug maker AstraZeneca to test the combination of its own experimental COVID-19 vaccine with the Russian shot of Sputnik V as Moscow said clinical trials were imminent .
Putin spoke via videoconference at a virtual event where AstraZeneca signed a memorandum of collaboration with Russia's Gamaleya Institute, which was developing Sputnik V, the Russian RDIF sovereign wealth fund, and Russian drug maker R-Pharm.
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On-going clinical trials have shown that Sputnik V has an efficacy rate of over 90%, which is higher than AstraZeneca's own vaccine and similar to that of US rivals Pfizer and Moderna.
Putin praised Pascal Soriot, the managing director of AstraZeneca, who had dialed in via video conference.
"I would like to single out your proactive stance in order to achieve goals that are of great importance not only for your company but in reality and without undue bombast or exaggeration for humanity," Putin said.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, told the event that clinical trials would soon begin in three countries combining the Russian and British vaccines.
He did not name the countries, but did mention that some of them are in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.
Dmitriev previously said Russia believes the combination will increase the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Kate Bingham, Chair of the UK Vaccine Task Force, said the UK would start trials of combinations of different types of vaccines for primary and booster vaccines this month next year in the hope that a "mix and match" Vaccination approach could maximize immune response.
The collaboration between one of the UK's most valuable publicly traded companies and the state-backed Russian research institute underscores the pressure to develop an effective shot to fight the pandemic that killed over 1.6 million people.
In Moscow, the move is seen as a long-awaited vote of confidence from a western manufacturer in Sputnik V, which, according to the Russian authorities, is the target of a smear campaign supported by foreigners.
Russia intends to jointly manufacture the new vaccine once its effectiveness is proven.
Dmitriev, head of RDIF, which has funded and promoted Sputnik V, also announced on Monday that Russia believes Sputnik is highly effective against a new strain of the coronavirus found in Europe.
He said neighboring Belarus will start producing the Russian vaccine in the first quarter of next year and Kazakhstan has started production.
Foreign manufacturing facilities would produce more than 500 million doses of the Russian vaccine in the next year, Dmitriev said.
(Adaptation by Mark Potter)
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