The State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology Vector is one of the largest Russian research and production complexes in the fields of biology and biotechnology. The center’s scientific interest is the study of viral infectious pathogens, with the aim of combating diseases and providing biological protection for Russian citizens. Basic research is focused on molecular biology, virology, genetic engineering, biotechnology, epidemiology, and ecology. The assets of Vector include more than 140 highly qualified researchers and engineers with Ph.D. degrees, together with state-of-the-art experimental facilities, including high-containment facilities for the study of dangerous human and animal pathogens.
The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) research activities in infectious disease research and the potential role of Vector were initially considered during a special seminar at Vector in December 1994. Two research projects—devoted to the development of hepatitis A and measles vaccines—were initiated. Within 2 years, both vaccines were being produced in Russia. However, the success of these initial projects did not lead immediately to further ISTC support, even in an environment of decreased funding throughout Russia for biomedical research during the late 1990s. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine prepared an important report on bioengagement in 1997 that led to further projects supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. Then, following an international meeting in June 1999 in Stockholm, the Department of State launched the BioTechnology Engagement Program (BTEP), which was very actively supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and soon involved Vector.
In 2000, BTEP helped start a few large-scale research projects, including
studies of (a) molecular diversity and epidemiology of hepatitis C, (b) epidemiology of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome viruses, and (c) smallpox and monkeypox genome sequence diversity. Numerous other cooperative projects in the biomedical sciences were also initiated in Russia, including projects at Vector, with support from various U.S. agencies. A number of projects were devoted to studying the molecular epidemiology of pathogens of public health importance in Russia: viral hepatitis, intestinal infections, influenza virus, tuberculosis, rubella, measles, HIV, herpes, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus. Also, research concerning an HIV vaccine was initiated. Public health projects were later supported by Russian funding agencies as well. Aerobiology of sensitive pathogens was supported and led to the series of well-accepted publications in international journals. Another group of projects was devoted to upgrading biosafety and biosecurity systems by sharing best practices in design, installation, and operation of engineering systems, which were installed and have been successfully maintained at Vector for many years.
International funding allowed for (a) the purchase of materials, reagents, and modern laboratory equipment, (b) disbursement of research grants for individual scientists and teams of scientists, and (c) travel to conferences. The result of these concerted efforts was to bring Russian laboratories up to international standards, while stabilizing the financial situation at Vector and other facilities. In 2002, international funding accounted for more than 25 percent of Vector’s budget.
Vector and the State Research Center for Applied Microbiology in Obolensk were initially under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, but in 2005 they were moved under the supervision of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being. The active engagement of the Federal Service with the two centers provided steady financial support for their research activities.
By 2004, international funding of biosciences projects at Vector had begun to decrease, in part because of (a) policies of the Federal Service and Ministry of Health and (b) U.S. insistence of U.S. agencies that Vector scientists agree not to accept funding from certain foreign organizations that did not support U.S. nonproliferation objectives. Funding from international sources has largely been replaced by increasing Russian government support.
The current world-class scientific research conducted at Vector would not have been possible without the intellectual, financial, and engineering investments from foreign partners, including the ISTC, CRDF, U.S. government agencies, and international organizations.
SOURCE: Multiple sources including Vector and committee members.