Rusal and Russia develop Ebola vaccine
Russia is at the forefront of global vaccine development as it pursues the creation of what Russian Health Minister Veronika Svortsova calls “a full inventory of vaccines”.
Its work in this area is far-ranging, as experts from Russia both create new knowledge and build on what we already know. For example, scientists in the country are improving on nascent vaccines first developed during the Soviet era to tackle diseases such as brucellosis, cholera, glanders, plague and tuleremia – carrying out clinical trials and developing new and more effective models. They are also developing vaccines aimed at preventing the spread of more modern afflictions, such as HIV and yellow fever.
However, the Russian vaccine attracting the most attention is a response to the West Africa Ebola epidemic, one of the greatest global heath challenges of the 21st century thus far.
In 2014, the largest outbreak of Ebola witnessed since 1976 tore through West Africa. Some 28,616 people became infected with the virus. Of these, 11,310 died. The disease had a disastrous impact on the economies of the countries worst impacted, namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with a combined GDP loss of a massive $2.2 billion. Health, jobs, political security and the economic futures of whole nations were under threat as the seemingly unstoppable Ebola virus tore through countries and communities.
However, thanks in no small part to a partnership between the Russian and Guinean governments and Rusal, there is now a vaccine available which will help prevent the march of the virus in the future.
Russia responds to Guinea Ebola outbreak with vaccine development
The development of the vaccine has its roots in a public-private partnership between Rusal and Russia, with the support of the government and people of Guinea.
For Russia, sponsoring the development of a vaccine was just one component of its leading role in the global effort to combat Ebola and support those suffering in the wake of the disease. It has provided assistance to those African countries affected by Ebola, both bilaterally and through multilateral organisations, working with partners such as the World Health Organisation, UN and World Bank to address both the disease itself and its impact.
Rusal has been deeply involved in the fightback against Ebola since the start of the latest epidemic. It is Russia’s largest foreign investor in Guinea, as well as one of Guinea’s largest foreign employers. While many organisations retreated from the African nation in the face of the Ebola crisis, Rusal not only decided to continue its operations but also led the way. To help tackle the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Rusal actively supporting the anti-Ebola initiatives of the government and implemented its own significant measures to try to mitigate the disease’s terrible impact.
Central to these efforts was the creation of the Centre for Microbiological Research and Treatment of Epidemic Diseases, located in the Kindia province.
There, at a cost of $10 million and in just 50 days, Rusal constructed a comprehensive medical facility, comprised of an infection hospital, a provisional hospital, mobile laboratory and a blood and plasma transfusion department complete with laboratory.
As well as functioning as a hospital, the centre was the site of more than 8,000 tests on biological materials, aimed at better understanding the virus and assessing the feasibility of creating a vaccine.
Rusal & Russia’s Gamaleya Institute develop and test Ebola vaccine in Guinea
The Russian quest to find a vaccine for Ebola was led by scientists at the country’s leading medical and biological research institution – the Russian State Gamaleya Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow. There, a vaccine was developed under the working directive of the president and quickly obtained Russian state registration.
In February 2016, the vaccine was presented to the World Health Organisation’s then-Director General Margaret Chan in Geneva, with Russian minister of Health Veronika Svortsova explaining that"One hundred percent of vaccinated people have a high antibody titer to the causative agent. We have been monitoring the vaccinated individuals for five months now, and this titer has remained high for five months. The blood serum of those vaccinated completely kills and neutralizes the virus in laboratory conditions." The two variants of the vaccine – named Gam-Evac Combi and Gam Evac – is the world’s first officially registered vaccine approved for clinical use for the prevention of the usually fatal hemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus.
In July 2017, the first batch of 1,000 Ebola vaccine dosesare to be sent from Russia to Guinea to be administered at the CEMRT facility built by Rusal. Parallel to this, the Rusal centre will also be integral to the assessment of the Russian Ebola vaccine and its future development.
Russia and Rusal’s treatment center continue to fight infectious diseases in Guinea
For now, Ebola is contained. While the crisis may have abated, the dangers posed by communicable diseases such as Ebola have not gone away. Both Russia and Rusal intend to continue its work in trying to prevent and treat infectious diseases and support the development of other innovative vaccines in Africa and beyond.
As well as being the main administration site for the vaccine in Guinea, Rusal’s CEMRT also acts as a medical centre for the treatment of other infectious diseases, providing specialist diagnostics, treatment and other prophylactic measures as well as being at the heart of current research into Ebola and other diseases.
By working together, Rusal, the Russian government and Guinea have not only helped to halt the spread of Ebola in West Africa. They have also developed a vaccine that will help to prevent the disease having such a catastrophic impact should it resurface in the future. This is a case study on how public-private partnerships should work together to provide the funding, facilities and intelligence to address some of the most pressing challenges our world faces.