Pharma major Morepen Laboratories has started the production of the test batch of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Himachal Pradesh, the company has said.

The first batch of the vaccine will be shipped to Russia's Gamaleya Center for quality control. Sputnik V, which was granted emergency use authorisation in India in April, was the third to be launched in the country for its nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programme, after the Covaxin and Covishield.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Morepen had signed a cooperation agreement in June 2021 for transferring the technology. RDIF had also reached agreements earlier with other pharmaceutical companies in India -- Gland Pharma, Hetero Biopharma, Panacea Biotec, Stelis Biopharma and Virchow Biotech.

"As the pandemic is yet far from over and new, more dangerous variants of coronavirus are being detected in various regions of the world, RDIF is increasing capacities for production of Sputnik V in India, one of the key hubs.

"Agreement with Morepen Laboratories provides for a larger amount of Sputnik V to be available both for India and our partners globally to speed up the vaccination with one of the best vaccines in the world," said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the RDIF, in a statement on Tuesday.

The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. The vaccine is two-shot and studies have shown it to be 97.6 per cent effective against Covid-19. It is priced less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world.

RDIF has agreed with partners in India to provide for production of more than 850 million doses of Sputnik V per year. So far, Sputnik V has been registered in 67 countries globally with a total population of over 3.5 billion people.

"We are delighted to partner with RDIF for the prestigious project of Sputnik V production in India. This would be our privilege to work jointly on expanding the production base in India," added Sushil Suri, Chairman and Managing Director of Morepen Laboratories.

Suri said the company looks for a "long term relationship with RDIF".

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