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NEW DELHI : Panacea Biotec Ltd has started producing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus in a major boost to the ongoing vaccination drive in India.

The first batch of the vaccine is being made at Panacea’s facility at Baddi in Himachal Pradesh from where it will be shipped to Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia for quality control. Full-scale production of the vaccine is expected to start later this summer, the New Delhi-based vaccine maker and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in a joint statement on Monday. Russian sovereign wealth fund RDIF is responsible for marketing the Sputnik vaccine globally.

Panacea Biotec will initially make test batches of 3 million vaccines each of the first and second doses, a person with knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity. Sputnik V comprises two doses given three weeks apart with each dose having a different strain of viral vector.

While some samples have been sent to Russia for testing the quality of the batch, the rest has been kept in India, the person said. “After fulfilling India’s requirement now, the batches produced by Pancea may also be exported," the person said.

Local production of Sputnik V will help ease a shortage of vaccines in India at a time when the pandemic continues to claim more lives. Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech International, the only two domestic makers of covid-19 vaccines currently, are also scaling up capacities for their Covishield and Covaxin vaccines, respectively.

Panacea has a a pact with RDIF to manufacture 100 million doses of Sputnik V.

“Launch of production in India in partnership with Panacea Biotec marks an important step in helping the country fight the pandemic. Production of Sputnik V supports efforts of India’s authorities to leave behind the acute phase of coronavirus as soon as possible while the vaccine will also be exported at a later stage to help prevent the spread of the virus in other countries around the world," RDIF chief executive officer Kirill Dmitriev said in the statement.

Other Indian companies that RDIF has signed manufacturing pacts for the Sputnik V vaccine are Hetero Biopharma, Gland Pharma, Stelis Biopharma, Virchow Biotech and Shilpa Medicare.

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