The government may look at areas around Thonnakkal, in Thiruvananthapuram district, for the facility. If successful, this would be one of the few sites of Sputnik V owned by Russian firms outside that country. Shine Jacob and Sohini Das report.
Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V could soon be manufactured in India by Russian firms. The Russian authorities are in talks with the Kerala government for scouting land to set up an international manufacturing site for the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Centre.
“Talks are on between the Russian government and Kerala regarding the setting up of a manufacturing unit of Sputnik V in our state,” Kerala Industries Minister P Rajeeve said. “Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation is spearheading the talks. The initial plan is to submit a letter of intent, and KSIDC is preparing a draft," he added.
The state government may look at areas around Thonnakkal, in Thiruvananthapuram district, for the facility. The minister said the discussions were happening at the governmental level. However, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets Sputnik V internationally, did not comment on the matter.
If successful, this would be one of the few sites of Sputnik V owned by Russian firms outside that country.
The RDIF has tied up with several manufacturers across the globe for the production of the vaccine, with India being the largest geography contributing around 1.1 billion doses annually. Russia’s sovereign wealth fund earlier reached agreements with several pharmaceutical companies in India such as Serum Institute of India, Gland Pharma, Hetero Biopharma, Panacea Biotec, Stelis Biopharma, Virchow Biotech, and Morepen for the production of the vaccine. Around 250 million doses are planned for India at present.
Apart from India, Sputnik V has production bases in South Korea, Brazil, China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Most of these are contract manufacturing facilities.
In April, Russian pharmaceutical firm R-Pharm said it expected to produce up to 8-10 million doses a month of the Sputnik V vaccine at its German plant in Bavaria. Reports suggest Germany is gearing up to start bilateral negotiations with Russia to obtain supplies of the vaccine, though a final decision would depend on approval by the European Medicines Agency.
Despite the global tie-ups, Sputnik V production has not picked up. According to Reuters, Russia had produced only 33 million doses of Sputnik V as of May. This is far lesser than the hundreds of millions of doses that Pfizer or AstraZeneca are making every month.
An Indian contract manufacturer said, “The process to make Sputnik V is complex and time consuming. It takes about two months to make the product, which is then compared with the reference product. If it does not match, then we have to throw away the production.” The person added that the process was made doubly complex because of the fact that Sputnik V used two different vectors in its two doses.
Russia is looking to develop both manufacturing bases and markets for its Covid-19 vaccine outside the country, as not many Russians have shown interest in Sputnik V, which claims to have an efficacy of 97.6 per cent.
Sputnik V was granted an emergency use authorisation in India on April 12, 2021. However, a commercial launch is yet to happen, and doses are still imported from Russia. Production from the Indian sites is yet to be available in the Indian market.