Vaccine makers AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V lab join forces to seek advances

The research is aimed testing new vaccines formulas using common cold viruses, said a statement by the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca, which could work in tandem with Russia’s Gamaleya Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, whose Sputnik V used two injections based on vectors of the common cold virus, or adenovirus.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, created with the University of Oxford, uses a cold virus that typically infects chimpanzees. That teaches the human immune system to block the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19.

AstraZeneca “will soon begin exploring within Russia to understand whether two adenovirus-based vaccines can be successfully combined,” the company said. Russia said AstraZeneca had agreed to explore using a Sputnik V “component” as part of efforts to create an improved vaccine.

The potential collaboration also sets up contrasts as wealthy countries snap up the early supplies of the promising vaccines from U.S.-based Moderna and Pfizer, which worked with Germany’s BioNTech. AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which is still awaiting regulatory approval, has been promoted by the company as a “vaccine for the world” with an eye to affordability and global reach.

Russia says it has orders for 1.2 billion doses from more than 40 countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, India and other regions.

The British government also recently announced that it would begin testing combinations of two different technologies, pairing one dose of a viral-vector vaccine like the one from AstraZeneca with a messenger RNA vaccine, the technology used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that such combinations “could help unlock synergies in protection and improve vaccine accessibility and could provide an additional approach to help overcome this deadly virus.”

The news comes with setbacks Friday for two Western vaccines developed by France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK, and Australia’s University of Queensland.

Russian officials said Thursday that Sputnik V’s efficacy is 96.5 percent, compared with 70 percent for AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

The British medical journal the Lancet on Tuesday published a peer-reviewed paper on the AstraZeneca vaccine, but questions lingered about how well it worked in people over 55 and about results showing better results with an initial half-dose. Full scientific data on Sputnik V has not been released, but Russia has promised to provide access to all the data to any country interested in the vaccine.

“We offered @AstraZeneca to use one of our vectors so they can also have two vectors in their vaccine. AZ confirmed,” the developers of Sputnik V tweeted Friday.

“The new chapter of vaccine cooperation has started today.,” another tweet announced. “We made an offer and AstraZeneca accepted it. It all happened here on Twitter!”

Russia’s decision to register and roll out the vaccine before Phase III trials were completed was criticized as reckless by some Western scientists. But Russian officials have grown increasingly hostile and defensive at what they see as Western attacks designed to discredit Russia’s vaccine for commercial reasons.

Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov Friday attacked what he called a foreign-funded “information sabotage” effort against Sputnik V both inside and outside Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that the United States and its allies were trying to exploit the pandemic, creating a global vaccine race.

Russia had called for global cooperation to defeat the threat, “but unfortunately, a number of countries, primarily the Americans and their allies, are trying to use this situation in their geopolitical interests, putting their selfish interests above those of all humanity,” he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday denounced unspecified “dirty tricks are use to discredit our vaccine” and told journalists that “there should not be any rivalry on the vaccine market.”

Sputnik V’s developers Friday also offered to share the Russian vaccine with France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK to boost their vaccine’s efficacy.

Sanofi and GSK announced Friday that their vaccines would be delayed until the end of next year after results of the Phase I/II trial found a low immune response in older adults.

“Sputnik V is willing to share its technology with Sanofi and GSK to help in developing their next vaccine. A partnership of different producers is the way of the future,” the Russian Direct Investment Fund, backers of Sputnik V, tweeted.

So far, 150,000 Russians have been vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine, Gamaleya center director Alexander Gintsburg said Thursday. Only front line health workers and teachers qualify to get vaccinated in mass vaccinations at government health clinics which opened this week. The Russian military is also offering vaccines to servicemen.

Polling in Russia shows that many Russians remain skeptical about being vaccinated, with anti-vaccine conspiracy theories circulating online, and some Russians convinced the vaccine does not exist. Any collaboration with a major Western drug company could boost Russian government efforts to encourage Russians to get vaccinated.

Clinical trials of a second Russian vaccine, developed by the Vector Center, began Friday.

The global price of the Sputnik V vaccine has been set at around $20 for two shots. Russian developers say the vaccine can be stored at around 18 degrees, making it easier to store and transport than the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine which must be kept at ultracold temperatures.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, however, can be stored long term at ordinary refrigerator temperatures.

Noack reported from Berlin. Carolyn Y. Johnson in Bolder, Colo., and Emily Rauhala in Washington contributed to this report.

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