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Russia Sets Mass Vaccination for October After Shortened Trial

2020-08-03 00:46:14

Russia also has an advantage, Mr. Ishmukhametov said, in its vast, Soviet-era industrial base for growing viruses for vaccines. In the pandemic, the country has turned to a secretive laboratory in Siberia with roots in the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program, which included the study of anthrax to target humans and plant pathogens that would destroy American crops.

The laboratory, Vektor, is now testing whether viruses that cause influenza, measles or vascular stomatitis — a livestock disease — can be put to use for a coronavirus vaccine.

The science of mass producing vaccines has deep roots here. Aleksei Chumakov, a virologist and son of the founder of the Chumakov Institute, recalled a summer job he held as a teenager chopping up kidneys harvested from African green monkeys. Even though the monkeys had been slaughtered, Mr. Chumakov said, their kidney cells lived on for many months, used to grow the polio virus in large, rotating glass cylinders.

“You kept stirring it and gradually the clumps came apart,” he said.

As scientists gained proficiency in growing so-called immortal cell lines — human or animal cells that are modified to divide indefinitely — they replaced cultures from fresh monkey kidneys.

The Chumakov Institute has used an immortal monkey kidney cell line from 1962 to grow coronavirus for a proposed vaccine using whole, inactivated viruses, which may be used as an alternative if the vaccine targeting just the spike protein fails.

The Gamaleya Institute developed its vaccine using a human cell line first cultured in 1973, known as Hek293 — the same line used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Like a number of other cell lines used in medical research, Hek293 began with cells taken from an aborted fetus, raising objections from abortion opponents, including Roman Catholic clerics.

The first human cell line was derived from the cancer that killed Henrietta Lacks in 1951. HeLa, as it was known, made its way into Soviet laboratories during the Cold War. Viktor Zuyev, an 91-year-old emeritus professor of virology at the Gamaleya Institute, recalled using it to cultivate flu virus.


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