Russia has been assertively courting Egypt to embrace the Sputnik V vaccine; after all, Russia’s health ministry had registered the product, meaning it was approved for use. However, Egypt has opted for two vaccines developed by Chinese company Sinopharm according to Egyptian sources. Now it would appear Sinopharm will tap into a large and important market: a gateway into not only the most populous Arab nation but also the African continent and one of the most populous Islamic countries worldwide. The Sinopharm vaccine, according to the local press, gains serious momentum in Egypt and the Middle East with a large Phase 3 clinical trial and emergency use designation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The Egyptian government also has secured 30 million doses of AZD1222 from AstraZeneca. But for access to the technology to produce a COVID-19 vaccine for internal use and export, it would appear China’s Sinopharm is well-positioned.
Russia has been suggesting a partnership for the Northern African nation to test Sputnik V (Gamaleya vaccine); after all, this particular vaccine was the very first COVID-19 vaccine candidate to be registered by a national government authority. However, that wasn’t sufficient for the Egyptians as on September 12, the Egyptian Ministry of Health announced that they would participate in Phase 3 clinical trials, including two vaccine candidates developed in China. According to an anonymous source within the Egyptian Ministry of Health, reports Al-Monitor, the winning partner is China’s Sinopharm. Sources suggest that Egypt has opted for the Sinopharm vaccine over Sputnik V as the Chinese company has offered the necessary technology for Egypt to produce the vaccine, among other reasons.
Russian Business Development
Russia has certainly tried to woo the prominent Africa Arabic nation in a bid to embrace Russian life science advancements. As TrialSite has reported, the rapid “registration” of Sputnik V was actually in part a marketing move, part of a business development strategy showcasing the sophistication and vibrancy of the Russian life sciences industry sector.
Sputnik V was the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by a national drug authority and purportedly evidenced Russia’s scientific and technical prowess. However, material life is influenced by and reflected in a series of dialectic dynamics, and it’s perhaps the case here that the very process of expediting approval could lead to an oppositional perception out in the market.
For example, Egypt hasn’t been that receptive to Russian suggestions for partnership. Al-Monitor reported that the Egyptian Ministry of Health failed to respond to a Russian offer to share Sputnik V with Egypt.
By August 19, Russian Ambassador to Cairo Georgy Borisenko announced the country’s readiness to work with Egypt, commenting, “This vaccine could be the basis for further development of relations between Egypt and Russia.”
But perhaps Russia was just too eager to woo Egypt with their candidate vaccine: sometimes appropriate market-demands first require an accumulation of desire. As philosopher and perhaps the world’s first essayist, Michel de Montaigne penned in France hundreds of years earlier, “that our desires are augmented by difficulty.”
That Russia marched to its own rapid drumbeat in the development of Sputnik V may have gone to dilute the perceived difficulty involved. Hence, the desirability the market has for this product. By embarking down an unorthodox and questionable path of intensive human challenge studies, abnormally condensed clinical trial timelines, and moving to register a product before a Phase 3 trial even started, possibly could have spooked the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global healthcare establishment actors.
Superior Chinese Science?
Although without outright declaring so, Egypt places its bet on the Chinese vaccines as more ready for primetime over the Russian one that happens to be approved (in Russia). Hossam Hosni, who leads a COVID-19 scientific committee, mentioned to Al-Monitor over a telephone call that Egypt will work with China commenting, “Egypt has verified the safety and prevention measures of the two [Chinese] vaccines it announced clinical trials for. “
This is one of the reasons why Egypt prefers the Chinese vaccine, not to mention the fact that its production stages are subject to supervision and evaluation by the World Health Organization (WHO). But perhaps as well as is described below, the UAE has issued an emergency use authorization for the Sinopharm inactivated COVID-19 vaccine.
Egypt as a Strategic Hub
Why are both the Russians and Chinese courting Egypt? How about the fact that it is both the third most populous country in all of Africa (103 million) and the most populated Arabic nation worldwide. The nation’s location positions it at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean region (including Southern Europe), representing a strategic nexus, a hub for the production of COVID-19 vaccines and therapies for a large swatch of Africa, not to mention influence in the Arabic and Mediterranean world.
Moreover, Egypt has been evolving a sophisticated research infrastructure (although issues persist as TrialSite has reported), which can be mobilized for vaccine development for internal consumption and export to other parts of Africa and the Islamic world.
Interestingly, according to Ahram Online, just in July, China selected Egypt as a future African hub for the manufacturing of a COVID-19 vaccine if one were to be developed by Beijing.
Forthcoming Phase 3 Trial
An official source from the Ministry of Health in Egypt informed Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the vaccine developer of choice is China’s Sinopharm. Egypt will start Phase 3 testing of the vaccine already approved by China for emergency use authorization and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to a report in Ahram online, a 6,000 participant Phase 3 clinical trial involving a Chinese vaccine will start soon. Although not officially declaring the study involves Sinopharm, it does identify that firm as the only Chinese firm with two vaccines.
Sinopharm Vaccine Gains Momentum
Sinopharm’s vaccine was developed by their China National Biotec Group (CNBG) venture. CNBG has ramped up Phase 3 clinical trials around the world in nations such as Peru, Morocco, and Argentina. Its inactivated vaccine has been ranked by the World Health Organization’s top watchlist of COVID-19 vaccines. The company earlier in the summer has already offered employees of state-owned Chinese companies traveling overseas access to the experimental vaccine.
Emergency Use in China this Summer
In July, TrialSite reported that Sinopharm received emergency use by the Chinese government by July 2020. But even prior to that emergency use declaration, the Chinese government was confident enough in the vaccine to offer employees at state-owned firms access to the investigational product for overseas business trips.
UAE Offers Front-Line Workers Emergency Use
The United Arab Emirates approved Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine for front-line workers following successful interim Phase 3 trials. Minister of Health Abdulrahman Al Owais recently commented, “The results of studies during the final stages of the Phase 3 trial showed that the vaccine is effective and resulted in strong response and the generation of antibodies to the virus. Studies on the safety of the vaccination have been reviewed and showed that it is safe and safe for use.”