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Former Soviet Defense Scientists Channel Skills Into Drug and Vaccine Development
Valentina Ivanovna Masycheva is Director of the Research and Design in the Technological Institute of Biologically Active Substances for "Vector," the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology that once served as a source of biological weapons and defense systems for the Soviet government.
One of 17 Russian scientists studying Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) at AAAS Headquarters through mid-February, Masycheva is learning to channel her research skills into producing pharmaceutical products that will meet international standards and will speed up Vector’s efforts to become a competitive player in the pharmaceutical industry.
“We learned about some new elements of the quality system that we had no idea of, but it is not as complex as we had originally thought,” says Masycheva, who is also Vector's deputy director for quality control. “But of course, to implement in our country it will require serious work. Work, work, work!”
A grant of almost $600,000 from the US Commerce Department is paying for the month-long program for the former defense scientists from Russia, and it will also cover the cost of sending US experts to Russia to train 50 other scientists in technology commercialization and in commercialization principles. The goal is to offer the scientists knowledge that will provide them with challenging and useful work. Their trainer is Dale McMillen, Senior Consultant with the GMP Institute - a division of the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). ISPE was AAAS's partner in this first phase of the commerce department contract.
“The outlook for some of these (defense) scientists is pretty dismal because there are few internal systems to help them redirect their careers,” says Elizabeth Kirk, Program Director for Europe and Central Asia Program of the AAAS Directorate for International Programs. “We’re trying to help them and to talk to them about how to change their jobs.”
The grant that is funding the Russians’ workshop at AAAS falls under a commerce department program known as SABIT (Special American Business Internship Training Program), which provides training opportunities for “gifted scientists from the NIS (New Independent States of the former Soviet Union) to apply their knowledge and skills to peaceful research and development (R&D) in the civilian sector, in such areas as defense conversion, medical research, and environmental technologies.”
“The idea is to expose these specialists to the commercial development and application of scientific research and to stress the role that R&D plays in a market economy,” says SABIT Director Liesel Duhon.
Well into their second week at AAAS, the Russian scientists said they were delighted to be in the United States and to promote the work of the Vector research program.
“We would like to come up with drug products that can be used around the world for treatment and diagnosis,” said Vladimir Eugenievich Repin, a microbiologist and director of Vector’s Institute for the Collection of Cultures of Microorganisms. “What we are finding out about differences between our systems is very important to us because our goal is to strive for harmonizing our requirements for quality control with those of other countries.”
The Russians are interested also in networking with other researchers and private companies, which they will be encouraged to do during their US stay. “We would like to disseminate information about Vector,” says Helena Avgustovna Nechaeva, Director of Vector’s Institute of Cell Cultures. “We go to international conferences and use every means to get new contracts and grants for projects financed by international companies and institutions.”
-- Coimbra Sirica