Sputnik V gets boost from Lancet study | Daily News

Sputnik V gets boost from Lancet study

Russian tscience — and President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions of turning the country into a global technology powerhouse — is having something of a moment.

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine now has a globally recognized seal of approval after British medical journal the Lancet published a peer-reviewed paper last week that put the vaccine in the same league as Western doses — with 91.6 percent efficacy 21 days after thefirst shotand 91.8 percent for those over 60 years old.

For Russia’s biotech industry, the results are heady validation after facing Western skepticism, fueled largely by Russia’s decision to release the vaccine before medical trials were complete — even using researchers as test subjects.

It’s also a powerful calling card for Sputnik in a world desperate to expand vaccine supply lines.

Sputnik V is registered in at least 16 other countries or territories, mainly in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and Latin America. The European Union, facing vaccine supply shortfalls, is now looking at possibly clearing the way for Sputnik and a Chinese vaccine.

Sputnik’s apparent success capped an audacious, and at times seemingly reckless, push that reflected Russia’s capacity for scientific improvisation. Russian experts piggybacked on existing vaccines developed in the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology but ranroughshod over normal scientific protocols.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, funding for science collapsed and researchers flocked to the West. Putin has tried to re-energize stagnant Russian science, pouring money into universities and research labs. In 2018, he called for more published research and practical applications.

In the past decade, Russia has built several cutting-edge science institutions such the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, also called Skoltech, outside Moscow. But a lingering Soviet mentality sets bureaucratic barriers for collaboration with foreign scientists or imports of research materials.

Ilya Yasny, head of scientific research at Moscow-based investment fund Inbio Ventures, called the Sputnik V development “more of an outlier” than a signal that Russian medical science has emerged as a serious global contender.

“The main problem is regulation,” he said. “Our laws and guidelines are, I would say, 15 years behind the European Union.”

Three years ago, Putin announced a national research strategy that promised 900 new laboratories, including 15 world-class research centers focused on mathematics, genomics, materials research and robotics. Yasny said many Russian drug developers still see the global standard for clinical trials — three stages and broad demographic testing — as “unnecessary hurdles.”

To gain lasting credibility, experts say, Russian scientists need to publish more papers in peer-reviewed international journals like the Lancet and collaborate with foreign scientists.

But Russia is heading in the other direction.

It has been trailing the world for many years in publications in major international scientific journals, according to a study of 22 million scientific papers from 2005 to 2017 by Vit Machacek and Martin Srholec from the Institute for Democracy and Economic Analysis in Prague.

Scandals around plagiarism and duplication in Russian scientific research saw the Russian Academy of Sciences announce the retraction of more than 800 scientific papers in January 2020.

Putin’s 2012 “Project 5-100” poured money into select Russian universities, targeting 21 institutions and aiming to get five into the top 100 globally by 2020. It failed. Only one, Lomonosov Moscow State University, made it to No. 84 in the QS World University rankings. The Times Higher Education rankings included none.

Russian and Soviet science has always focused the most resources on nuclear physics, weapons and space. Putin often boasts of the country’s deployment of hypersonic missiles, a development that could presage an arms race.

Still, Russia has chalked up some solid achievements in medical research, including the development of an Ebola vaccine and a vaccine for Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, another coronavirus outbreak first reported in 2012.

And money is flowing. On Friday, Putin dubbed 2021 as Russia’s “Year of Science,” and the government pledged science and medical research funding of $280 billion to 2030. Russians, too, are slowly warming to Sputnik after some initial hesitation. A survey published Feb. 2by the Levada Center, an independent polling agency, found only 38 percent of Russians were willing to be vaccinated in December. Of those who were unwilling, 30 percent planned to wait for the results of clinical trials. At the dowdy first-floor corridor in Moscow municipal clinic No. 5, nurse Irina Vasilyeva syringed up 0.5 milliliters of Gam-COVID-Vak — otherwise known as Sputnik V. She sighed as queues for the vaccine grew.

“It seems as if the whole of Russia decided to get vaccinated today,” she said on a holiday morning, Russian Christmas Eve on Jan. 6.

Russian officials, meanwhile, have basked in the Lancet glow.

“There are no arguments left for critics of this vaccine. The article in the Lancet is a checkmate,” said Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed the vaccine’s development.

(Washington Post)