An Argentine pharmaceutical firm says it has produced the first local batch of the Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus and will be dispatching it to Moscow for quality control checks imminently.
Laboratorios Richmond SACIF also confirmed that mass production of the vaccine would begin in June.
The announcement means that Argentina has now become the first country in Latin America to start production of Sputnik V, the shot originally developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Centre.
According to a press release from the firm and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund), the state agency representing the creators of the vaccine, the doses produced in Argentina “could be exported to countries in Central and Latin America at a later stage.”
The vaccine technology has been transferred to Richmond and full-scale production should start soon, RDIF said in a statement. Reports in local outlets said the Russian shot had been manufactured at a plant in Malvinas Argentinas, Buenos Aires Province. The first batch consisted of 21,176 doses.
In a statement to the local stock exchange, Laboratorios Richmond said that "if there are no difficulties, a stage of production of Sputnik V would being in our country as soon as possible."
President Alberto Fernández hailed the news as a “great opportunity” for the nation and the wider region.
“We are very excited about the possibility of producing Sputnik V in Argentina, a vaccine with which we are already protecting a large part of our population with excellent results. It will be a great opportunity to advance in the fight against the pandemic not only in Argentina, but also in Latin America,” he said.
Argentina was one of the first countries in the region to approve the vaccine (ANMAT gave the green light in December 2020) and sign an agreement with Russia to buy and use Sputnik V. The doses the nation is currently using to inoculate citizens were produced in South Korea and India.
According to the Russian government, the jab has now been registered in 60 countries worldwide. Data shows the shot is 97.6 percent effective against coronavirus infection for individuals who have both doses.
Laboratorios Richmond first confirmed it had reached an agreement to produce the manufacture locally with the RDIF back in February. The firm said at the time that it would with a long-term partner, Indian laboratory Hetero Labs Limited, to produce Sputnik V.
The firm received technical and financial support from the Productive Development Ministry, which granted a loan of almost 30 million pesos (about US$300,000) . Another 13 milllion pesos would also be granted in assistance, the government said Tuesday.
Marcelo Figueiras, the president of Laboratorios Richmond, said the company is “proud” to have been selected to develop the vaccine locally.
“We celebrate this recognition that we will reward with work, commitment and professionalism, to facilitate availability of the vaccine in the shortest possible time for Argentina and the entire Latin American region,” he said.
Figueiras is understood to be in Moscow at the moment to supervise the quality controls checks.
“Argentina was the first country of Latin America to approve Sputnik V and begin using it to vaccinate the population,” said Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the RDIF. “Today we are delighted to announce that Argentina has become the first country of the region to launch the production of Sputnik V thanks to partnership between RDIF and Laboratorios Richmond.”
Several local outlets reported last week that Richmond is looking for investment in order to construct a new factory that could potentially manufacture up to 500 million doses of vaccines in a single year.
The firm hopes its existing facilities will enable it to produce around one million doses per month until the new site is up and running.
Argentina has received almost eight million vaccine doses to date, of which 4.8 million are Sputnik V. Around 5.6 million Argentines have received their first shot to date, with 800,000 receiving two doses.
Russia registered Sputnik V last August ahead of large-scale clinical trials, prompting concern among experts over the fast-track process.
But later reviews have been largely positive, with the medical journal The Lancet publishing results showing it to be safe and more than 90 percent effective.