With Sputnik V, Russia takes on Western giants of big pharmaceutical companies in fight for multibillion-dollar global Covid-19 vaccine business


    La Russie a été largement critiquée lorsqu'elle est devenue le premier pays au monde à enregistrer un vaccin contre le coronavirus en août.  Il a été accusé d'avoir précipité l'approbation de la formule «Spoutnik V» à des fins politiques ou de propagande.

</p><div><p>Depuis lors, tout le développement du vaccin a été poursuivi par Schadenfreude alors que la presse sautait sur des signes d'irrégularité dans les données, et la Russie a même été accusée d'avoir volé la technologie.

But markets surged when US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, together with German research firm BioNtech, announced that its offering had shown 90% effectiveness in phase III trials. Investment banks immediately improved their outlook for 2021 for a scenario in which some sort of normalcy returns.

In the meantime, the Phase III clinical trials of Sputnik V are halfway through and no major issues with the formula have yet arisen. About half of the 40,000 research volunteers received both injections without major adverse effects. And the day after Pfizer’s announcement, the producers released preliminary results that suggest Sputnik V is 92 percent effective.

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“Everyone has been fed up with all the COVID news flow over the past few months, but there has already been a lot of progress in the vaccine – and I’m not talking about the US vaccine,” Renaissance Capital economist for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Sofya Donets said at the bank’s 25th anniversary investment summit last week. “In Russia we already have two vaccines registered: one in August, then again in October. They will soon be ready for large-scale production. “

Donets already includes a scenario where a mass vaccination takes place and the pandemic subsides in the first half of next year.

“40,000 volunteers have already been vaccinated during the test period. By the end of this year, growers are set to deliver 5-6 million doses per month, and by spring officials report this will increase to 15 million per month: enough to vaccinate all Russians over 60 years in two months ”. said Donets.

Russia Inc affronte Big Pharma

Put aside for a moment the political escalation that has hampered the global search for drugs to deal with a deadly disease. Once the hype is over, the business will begin. And it will be a really, really big business.

Estimates of the value of the coronavirus vaccine market vary widely, with estimates ranging from $ 25 billion to $ 100 billion being discussed. But it will clearly be worth several billion dollars. And whoever brings an effective vaccine to market first will get a lot of that money.

Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the sovereign wealth fund called the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has funded much of the Sputnik V research, says he believes Russia will control around a third of the three to five billion dollars. possible doses from the market. If this is true, exports of coronavirus vaccines will earn Russia as much as it receives from the export of grain or arms – and Russia is a world leader in both of these export categories.

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Russia Inc as a Big Pharma company isn’t exactly what we’re used to, but given its prowess in other sciences, it certainly has the intellectual capital that could produce an effective vaccine.

The problems Russia will face in the future will be trade problems. Production is already proving to be a major headache. Donets’ estimate of 5-6 million doses per month is already down from previous predictions that 10 million doses would be produced by Christmas, and the 15 million doses per month that could be produced in the first semester of next year are half of previous forecasts. .

Last month, RDIF said it is currently investing in production facilities and will be able to produce 30 million doses by the end of this year and up to 200 million per year from 2021, but it is clear that it is not going as fast as the Sovereign. the wealth fund had hoped for.

In mid-October, Industry Minister Denis Manturov, in an interview with Bloomberg, called out these promises “Absurdity. “

“The main challenge now is to develop production”, he said. “It is impossible to produce 30 minutes of doses by the end of the year.” RDIF’s updated forecast is 7-10 million doses of vaccine in December-January – and even that estimate is in doubt.

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Nonetheless, millions of doses will be produced and the volume will increase rapidly as the issues are resolved. With $ 10 billion in assets under management and the might of the Kremlin at its back, RDIF is no shortage of money or resources.

But Russia is. There is not a well-developed and diverse pharmaceutical industry like that in the United States that can be plundered for resources and manpower.

However, Russia is doing much better on the distribution and marketing fronts. One of the big problems with the Pfizer vaccine is that it has to be stored very cold.

Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Nov. 11 that the distribution of Pfizer’s messenger RNA-based technology to developing countries will be ” difficult “ because it should be stored at -70C (-94F).

“He has some cold chain problems, so to speak. In a country like the UK and the US, we can fix it and it would still be difficult. But, probably much more difficult in the countries of the developing world ”, Fauci told a Financial Times global pharmaceuticals and biotechnology conference.

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The Russian version does not have any of these problems because it can be stored at room temperature.

Extreme cold storage will also make the Pfizer drug much more expensive.

Russian investment bank BCS Global Markets estimates that possible vaccine prices for overseas sales could vary from around RUB 300 to 1,000 / dose ($ 4 to $ 14), which is a fraction of the Financial’s estimates. Times on vaccine prices forecast by foreign pharmaceutical majors. main candidates: Moderna $ 25-30 / dose and Pfizer / BioNTech, at $ 19.5.

Russia is also well ahead in marketing and sales. In August, almost immediately after Sputnik V was registered, the producers signed an agreement with Kazakhstan to deliver several million doses as soon as clinical trials were completed.

Uzbekistan has also signed an agreement with Russia for 30 million doses, as have several BRIC countries. In all, about fifty countries have signed some kind of agreement with Russia to buy its vaccine. For countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, driving formulas around their huge countries that must be kept at -70 ° C is not a solution. Additionally, following its ‘Moscow Consensus’ ideology, the Kremlin will bundle vaccine dose sales with other elements such as energy and politics to form an offer that will appeal to countries like these. a business entity like Pfizer cannot match.

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In recent weeks, RDIF has announced plans to sell 100 million doses to India, 50 million to Brazil and 32 million to Mexico, as well as 25 million to Nepal and Egypt each. All states outside the post-Soviet world.

“We anticipate that Russia will switch to the national vaccine and already start exporting the vaccine in the first half of 2021. 20 countries are in discussions with Russian producers,” said Donets. “India’s potential contract concerns 100mn doses as well as LatAm countries as well as Russia’s regional neighbors.”

These named deals alone total around $ 950 million, which is a profitable start for a product that many in the West could possibly regret having underestimated or ignored altogether.

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