Russian scientists at a research institute in Moscow are injecting themselves with a prototype vaccine against the emerging coronavirus, following an unusual approach, but it shows ambitious progress in the global race to find a cure for the pandemic.
The director of the Gamalia Research Institute, Alexander Gwensburg, does not hesitate to disclose that he has injected himself with a vaccine carried by a non-infectious virus. Its use of such a method, contrary to the usual protocols, only implies a desire to accelerate the scientific process as much as possible in order to complete clinical trials in humans in the summer.
Russia has clearly expressed its desire to be among the first, if not the first, countries to develop a vaccine against the virus that has killed at least 360,000 people worldwide.
The Gamalia Institute program is just one of several projects presented to President Vladimir Putin. Other programs are implemented within public-private partnerships or supervised by the Ministry of Defense.
Many officials went so far as to assure Putin that a vaccine could be produced before the end of the summer, bypassing their promises of dozens of projects under way in China, the United States and Europe.
However, some voices express their fear of confusing speed and haste.
In this context, the National Association of Clinical Research Institutions condemned the experiments of Gamalia Institute as "a flagrant violation of the foundations of clinical research, Russian law and international standards" under pressure from the Russian authorities.
"I am concerned about promises to produce a vaccine by September," said Vitaly Zverev, an official at the General Mechanikov Institute for Vaccines and Sera. It reminds me of the race, I don't like that. ”
It is also about Russia's prestige; As the scientific research sector was known during the era of the Soviet Union as one of the best in the world, especially by being able to produce 1.5 billion doses of vaccines that contributed in particular to the elimination of smallpox in the world.
But Russian medical research, like many other sectors, witnessed a total collapse in the 1990s.
Among the most famous research institutes was the Victor General Center, which today aspires to win the leadership in arriving at a vaccine against the Corona virus, and it is implementing several projects, including in partnership with private companies.
But the problem, says Alexander Lukachev, director of the Marsynovsky Institute of Medical Parasitology, is that Russian research is struggling to move from the laboratory to the real world, despite the high quality of basic research and the competence of scientists.
And he explains: "I do not know a single (new) vaccine that Russia produced in large quantities and used more than a million doses, while at such levels we can only assess the effectiveness of the vaccine" in the long term.
Lukachev cites as an example studies of promising vaccine models against the SARS epidemic that broke out in Asia in 2002 and is similar to the emerging coronavirus. But it turned out that these vaccines were a source of immune disease. This means that people who got the vaccine had an immune response that worsened their symptoms, even sometimes years after that.
Lukachev says it is indisputable that, under current conditions, "developing a vaccine is a matter of national prestige" for Russia.