- Dmitry Morozov of pharmaceutical Biocad is the oligarch behind Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.
- Sputnik V is now being rolled out worldwide, with plans to use it in one in 10 global vaccinations.
- However, it faces hurdles in the EU and US as well as Russia with reluctance and supply bottlenecks.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In Russia, the name Sputnik is associated with innovation, progress, and one of the greatest successes in Soviet history.
When Sputnik 1 became the first human object to reach Earth’s orbit in 1957, Americans watched in amazement.
Over 60 years later, Sputnik is taking the world by storm again, this time as Russia’s flagship COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V.
Vladimir Putin was vaccinated against Covid-19 with Sputnik V, partly to coax those Russians who remain hesitant to go and get the jab.
Dmitry Morozov, an elusive oligarch who heads pharmaceutical company Biocad, is the man behind Sputnik V.
The pharmaceutical company behind the vaccine
Sputnik V is still viewed with a fair degree of skepticism especially in the EU and the US.
Earlier this month, a top official of the European Medicines Agency said approving the vaccine too early would be “somewhat comparable to Russian roulette.”
The vaccine’s official Twitter account then demanded a public apology, saying the official’s comments “raise serious questions about possible political interference in the ongoing EMA review.”
-Sputnik V (@sputnikvaccine) March 8, 2021
However, Russia is also struggling with supply bottlenecks and according to information from an independent pollster reported by Reuters, over 60% of Russians are unwilling to be vaccinated with Sputnik V.
Biocad is a well-known and well-connected name in the pharmaceutical industry and has been producing drugs for HIV and cancer for years.
US-based Pfizer, which is producing its own vaccine together with BioNTech, was even interested in acquiring Biocad.
Morozov owns 30% of the company and, in September, the company established one of Russia’s most modern production facilities in Zelenograd, north of Moscow.
The company employs 2,500 employees and has 1,500 people working on Sputnik V alone.
The team is also developing a drug for COVID-19 lung disease.
A camera team from Spiegel TV got a rare glimpse into the production of the vaccine, which revealed high levels of security at the factory in St Petersburg.
Complexity inhibits production
According to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, 10 million doses of Sputnik V have been produced so far.
However, many more doses are needed to vaccinate Russia and meet global demand.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Sputnik V is a vector-based vaccine.
This means fragments of the genetic material of the coronavirus are placed in attenuated viruses like adenoviruses.
The adenoviruses deliver genetic information from the coronavirus into the human body.
The body’s cells then respond and produce the virus’s protein, which the immune system can recognize and for which it can produce the body’s required defense substances.
With Sputnik V, however, two different adenoviruses are found in each of the required two doses, administered three weeks apart.
While this makes the vaccine more effective, it also increases the complexity of production.
According to data published in The Lancet, Sputnik V is just under 92% effective and so is roughly as effective as the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
Morozov finds the EU countries’ hesitation baffling and has spoken about vaccine nationalism and bureaucracy in the EU, according to World Today News.
In addition to Sputnik V, Russia has approved two other homemade vaccines, CoviVac and EpiVacCorona.