[INTERVIEW] Korea may produce Russian vaccine in November
RDIF collaborates with drugmakers here to fight pandemic
Russia has selected South Korea as the place to produce its COVID-19 vaccine for the Asian market, according to the head of the world's largest country's sovereign wealth fund.
Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) CEO Kirill Dmitriev told The Korea Times in a recent interview that his country has begun procedures to supply South Korea with the world's first registered vaccine against the coronavirus within a couple of months.
"South Korea can be a great partner to produce Sputnik V," he said.
"We are in talks with two major Korean pharmaceutical companies, which have production capabilities, to produce the vaccine in South Korea and potentially supply it not only in Korea but also to export it to other countries in Asia."
Korea has already been mentioned as a potential production base for COVID-19 vaccines developed by several countries, since SK Bioscience signed agreements with AstraZeneca and Novavax to produce their vaccines here. Samsung Biologics joined hands with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to produce its medicine for COVID-19.
Dmitriev did not disclose the names of the Korean drugmakers he has contacted, but he noted those companies may start producing the vaccine here as soon as November, if they get approval from the Korean authorities.
"We aim to make it available for use in countries globally and to create strategic partnerships for vaccine production in all parts of the world, including South Korea," he said.
"We believe that the registration of Sputnik V in Russia is a milestone in global efforts to protect people around the world against coronavirus."
RDIF has made investments in the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, so that the state-run research institute can develop the vaccine named after the world's first satellite that the Soviet Union launched in 1957.
Moscow granted regulatory approval to the vaccine in August, after less than two months of human testing without a phase 3 trial.
In Europe and North America, this has caused concerns over its safety, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that the vaccine had been administered to one of his daughters. A recent survey by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center showed 52 percent of Russians were not prepared to be vaccinated with Sputnik V, according to Tass.
Having confirmed that he and his family had been vaccinated, however, Dmitriev dismissed concerns, emphasizing the vaccine uses a proven platform based on human adenoviral vectors.
"Nowadays, this is the safest mechanism for introducing the genetic code of the virus spike into the human body, and it has been thoroughly studied not only in Russia but also abroad," he said.
"Clinical trials of the vaccine against coronavirus have demonstrated that 100 percent of volunteers developed immunity within 21 days. After the second vaccination, the immunity response was boosted further and provided for long-lasting immunity."
According to the CEO, the post-registration trials involve more than 40,000 people in Russia, the Middle East and other countries.
"This vaccine will not only protect people, but it will also help the global economy recover faster," Dmitriev said.
"We believe in the necessity of international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and welcome cooperation between our countries, which would lead to more efficient collaboration in the joint fight against the common enemy."
Partnership with KIC
After the outbreak of the disease, Russia also tried to take the lead in cooperation among international sovereign wealth funds, including the Korea Investment Corporation (KIC).
RDIF hosted a teleconference of sovereign wealth funds in April to discuss countermeasures against COVID-19 and to share investment strategies.
In addition to KIC CEO Choi Hee-nam, the participants included representatives from the China Investment Corporation, Singapore's GIC and Temasek, the United Arab Emirates' Mubadala Investment Company, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, France's Bpifrance and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio and EQT Partners co-head Marcus Brennecke also joined the meeting.
"During our regular calls, we discussed with partners the most advanced technologies to fight the virus, which included testing systems, drugs and vaccines, as well as the best way to resume economic activity," Dmitriev said.
He reaffirmed the RDIF's strong ties with the KIC, with which it agreed in 2013 to raise a $500 million investment fund. When Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki visited Russia in September 2019, the RDIF also promised to create a $1 billion investment fund with Korea.
"Together with our partners from the KIC, we are evaluating a number of joint investment opportunities with Korean partners in the chemical, telecommunications, biotech, healthcare and finance industries," Dmitriev said. "Seven projects totaling $500 million are in the final stage."