India to become one of the biggest production hubs for Sputnik vaccine outside of Russia

Virchow Biotech's announcement of 200 million doses a year takes Sputnik tally in India to more than 750 million

A Tunisian nurse holds a dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as another inoculates a health worker against the covid-19 at a hospital in the capital Tunis, on March 13, 2021, at the start of a vaccination programme. / AFP / FETHI BELAID
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Russia’s sovereign wealth fund announced a manufacturing deal with an Indian pharmaceutical company to produce up to 200 million doses a year doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

The tie-up between the Russian Direct Investment Fund and Virchow Biotech Private Limited on Monday comes after similar announcements by three other pharma companies in India.

The deal will make India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, one of the biggest producers of Sputnik V outside of Russia with more than half a billion doses a year.

Based in Hyderabad, southern India, Virchow Biotech will also help with RDIF’s global supply of Sputnik.

“Virchow’s proven capabilities in large scale drug substance manufacturing should help meet the global demand for this vaccine,” Dr Tummuru Murali, managing director of Virchow Biotech, said in a statement released by RDIF.

Commercial production will begin after the technology transfer is complete in the second quarter of this year.

“Vaccine partnerships are the only way to overcome the pandemic. The world continues its fight against coronavirus and we see a growing interest in Sputnik V vaccine,” Kirill Dmitriev, RDIF’s chief executive said.

“The agreement with Virchow Biotech is an important step to facilitate the full-scale local production of the vaccine in India and to supply our international partners globally.”

Mauritius on Monday became the 55th country to approve Sputnik V for use, after it was registered under the country's emergency use authorisation procedure.

Interest in the vaccine soared after data published in The Lancet medical journal showed the two-shot dose to be 91.6 per cent effective against Covid-19.

RDIF partnered last week with Stelis Biopharma, a division of India's Bengaluru-based Strides Pharma, to produce at least 200 million doses of Sputnik.

The company on Friday said it would begin supplies from the third quarter of this year.

“We will also work with RDIF to increase the availability of the vaccine beyond our initial commitments,” said Arun Kumar, founder of the Strides Group.

Gland Pharma, based in Hyderabad city, earlier said it would supply up to 252 million doses of Sputnik V, with delivery expected to begin from the fourth quarter of this year.

India’s Hetero, also based in Hyderabad, signed a deal in November to produce more than 100 million doses of the vaccine.

Other countries producing Sputnik are China, Brazil and South Korea.

The vaccine is administered in two doses given 21 days apart.

Vials can be stored in conventional refrigerators between 2°C and 8°C, making it easier to transport since it does not need cold-chain infrastructure.

Priced at less than $10 per shot, the vaccine is named after the first Soviet space satellite, the Sputnik-1 launched in 1957, and developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow.

India has so far approved two vaccines – the Oxford-Astra Zeneca jab produced by the Serum Institute of India and Covaxin, a homegrown vaccine produced by Bharat Biotech. India's drug regulator has asked for more data from the Sputnik V developers.