The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Serum Institute of India (SII) unveiled plans on Tuesday to start producing Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in India from September to help meet New Delhi's own needs in the first instance.
RDIF, Russia's sovereign wealth fund, which promotes the vaccine globally, said the plan was to produce over 300 million doses of the vaccine per year in India, the leading production hub for Sputnik V.
Kirill Dmitriev, RDIF's CEO, told reporters that the first batches of the vaccine produced would be earmarked for India, which with a coronavirus caseload of 30.91 million infections has recorded the world's second-highest number of cases behind the United States.
Dmitriev said RDIF was however in talks with the Indian government about the possibility of exporting some doses produced under the agreement to third countries once the immediate needs of the Indian population had been met.
Production has not yet started. SII, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, has already received cell and vector samples from Russia's Gamaleya Centre, RDIF said.
"With their import approved by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), the cultivation process has begun," RDIF said in a statement.
Dmitriev said he expected the first batches of the vaccine to be produced in the coming months and for production to "ramp up" quickly this year.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, said in the same statement he hoped that millions of doses could be produced in the coming months and that trial batches would be available from September.
Sputnik V comprises two components and the second one has proved harder to manufacture in Russia.
RDIF did not say whether SII would make both components or just the first one.
A one-shot version, comprising the first shot only, is called Sputnik Light.
India's full rollout of Sputnik V has been put on hold until a Russian producer provides equal quantities of its two differing doses, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories Ltd REDY.NS, which markets and distributes it inside India, said on Monday.
It said it so far received far fewer doses of the second component than the first one.
Some countries have widened the gap between administering the two doses to prioritise vaccinating as many people as possible with the first component.
RDIF has been looking into the possibility of mixing Sputnik with AstraZeneca and Oxford University's shots. Dmitriev said the results of trials exploring the safety and efficacy of that combination were expected by the end of July.
Sputnik V vaccine has been registered in 67 countries globally with a total population of over 3.5 billion people, RDIF said in its statement.