World must pick sides in vaccines battle, says Russian wealth fund chief

Financial Times, 17.07.2020

Kirill Dmitriev says his country will be among those to develop a vaccine soon

Russia has said that it and a handful of other world powers will develop viable Covid-19 vaccines in the new year, forcing the rest of the world to chose which of them to align with.

Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, also warned that public health could be put at risk and coronavirus immunity divided by geopolitical faultlines if countries chose “political biases” instead of sourcing the most effective defences against the virus.

“Six months from now, we will be in a situation where a few countries will have vaccines, and we believe those countries will be the UK, Russia, China and the US,” Mr Dmitriev, head of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, told the Financial Times in an interview. “And basically other countries will decide, you know, which vaccine to buy ... and who do you trust?”

The warning comes a day after the UK, US and Canada accused hackers linked to the Russian state of attempting to steal information about the development of a British vaccine, and the US accused China of attempting to hack American research.

Mr Dmitriev rubbished the Russian hacking allegations as “unsubstantiated and frankly, strange” and “an attempt to derail the success of the Russian vaccine, which we believe will be the first possibly in the world and the most efficient in the world”.

Moscow did not need to steal any information about the British vaccine being trialled by Oxford university because AstraZeneca, the UK-based pharmaceuticals company that is part of the development team, was about to sign a deal with an RDIF-owned drug company to manufacture it in Russia, he added.

“The Oxford vaccine will be fully transferred to Russia,” said Mr Dmitriev. “[But] we believe that the Russian vaccine is better.”

Scores of purported coronavirus vaccines are being developed across the world, with many regulators ripping up established testing rules and schedules in a race to produce a viable product.

Moscow has touted its vaccine as more effective than those in development in other countries. It said the vaccine was based on an already in-use Ebola inoculation and designed using more information about Covid-19 than rival products.

The early clinical trials of the Russian vaccine — developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute in Moscow and financed by RDIF — have not yet been peer-reviewed and no detailed data from the tests have been published.

But Mr Dmitriev said it would enter phase three testing — on several thousand people — next month, adding that he had injected himself and his 74-year-old parents with it.

“You have a major problem in the world ... that political barriers and political biases prevent the best technologies being used,” he told the FT. “Political biases are detrimental to people’s wellbeing in those countries.”

“It is a terrible [virus],” he said. “Let’s get people safe and then we can do the politics ... This nationalism does really prevent best solutions being openly discussed and analysed.”

Moscow is in talks to supply the vaccine to countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, Mr Dmitriev said, but western states were under pressure not to use Russian technology.

A Covid-19 test developed by Russian and Japanese researchers and also backed by RDIF has sold more than 13m units overseas, including 1m to France, Austria and Switzerland, Mr Dmitriev said.

RDIF has also applied for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the test. But Mr Dmitriev said ongoing furore over Moscow’s supposed influence on American politics was holding back selling the tests. Mr Dmitriev’s failed efforts to develop a “reconciliation plan” through back channels with the Trump administration were detailed in US special counsel Robert Mueller’s report last year into Russian election interference.

“They could use our solution, but they’re not because of ‘Russia’,” he said.

“We see barrier after barrier to anything that has to do with Russia being adopted,” he added. “We see a concerted effort to stop anything Russian from being adopted by other nations because of the national interests of western powers.”

RDIF has said that it plans to produce more than 200m doses of the vaccine by the end of this year and aims to inoculate the Russian population by early 2021.