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Cablegate: Russian Lab Moves Ahead to Become Regional and Who Flu

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RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3379/01 1920252
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110252Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 003379

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR G/AIG
STATE ALSO FOR EUR/RUS, EB/TPP/ATP, EB/TPP/BTA, OES/STC
USDA FOR OSEC/DAN CAINE, FAS FOR OSTA/MACKE,
- WRIGHT, LEIER, ROSENBLUM; OCRA/THOMAS,
- FLEMINGS; OA/PATRICK CLERKIN
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- APHIS/FERNANDEZ
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DEPARTMENT PASS USAID FOR GH/RCS/EE/ROSENBERG
CDC ATLANTA PASS SEPRL FOR DAVID SUAREZ

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO KFLU KSTH KPAO SENV RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIAN LAB MOVES AHEAD TO BECOME REGIONAL AND WHO FLU
CENTER

REFS: A. 06 Moscow 12876 (G8 Infectious Diseases)
B. Moscow 1318 (Russian AI Preparedness)
C. 06 Moscow 10955 (Human AI Vaccine)

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Russia pledged to transform the Vector State
Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology near Novosibirsk into
a regional influenza center and ultimately a WHO Collaborating
Center for avian influenza as part of its 2006 G8 Presidential focus
on infectious diseases. Although Vector has formally applied to
become a WHO reference laboratory and collaborating center and has
hosted a WHO assessment team, the process could take as long as two
years to complete. Vector has been actively developing its
diagnostic and surveillance capacity in the meantime, and training
flu specialists from the CIS and Central Asia. The question of how
willingly Vector will share avian influenza samples with institutes
outside Russia is still unresolved. END SUMMARY.

WHO Begins Assessing Vector as an AI Center
-------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) During the Soviet era, Vector was part of Biopreparat,
which produced biological compounds for both civilian and military
applications. Although Russia has consistently denied that the
Soviet Union had an offensive biological weapons program, it is
widely believed that Vector was specifically established in the
1970s to develop viral agents for military uses. In 2004,
jurisdiction over Vector was transferred to the Health and Social
Development Ministry, and it is now a leading virology and biotech
research center. Vector was involved in virus isolation and
characterization and AI surveillance during a 2005 AI outbreak which
occurred in the Novosibirsk region (a crossroads for migratory
birds).

3. (SBU) As pledged during its 2006 G8 Presidency (Ref A), Russia is
spending $45 million to establish Vector as a regional collaborating
center for Avian Influenza and to equip a network of 26 other labs.
Vector falls under the jurisdiction of Gennadiy Onishchenko,
Russia's Chief Medical Officer and the head of the Federal Service
for the Protection of Consumer Rights and Human Well-Being
(Rospotrebnadzor). Media savvy and probably Russia's most vocal and
influential public health figure, Onishchenko effectively used
Russia's G8 presidency to garner additional funding for Vector to
conduct research on both HIV/AIDS and AI (Ref A).

4. (SBU) Vector submitted an application to the WHO to become a
collaborating center for avian influenza in 2006, and a WHO
assessment team visited the institute in April 2007. The WHO team
found that Vector had a strong background in AI virus isolation and
research, but no expertise in handling human cases of AI or
conducting human influenza surveillance. There is currently no
laboratory for human influenza at Vector, and Vector is in the
process of remodeling one of its Biosafety Level Three facilities to
turn it into the AI lab. The WHO team concluded that Vector could
eventually become a WHO collaborating center for AI research, but
that this process could take as long as two years. Another WHO
inspection team will visit Vector within that period to make a final

MOSCOW 00003379 002 OF 003


designation.

Vector Takes Regional Lead on AI Conferences and Training
--------------------------------------------- ---

5. (SBU) Vector has begun a robust program to enhance the AI skills
of its own experts, and to train other specialists from CIS
countries and Central Asia. Four leading Russian influenza experts
visited the WHO collaborating Center at CDC Atlanta in January 2007,
and six flu scientists will visit the WHO Collaborating Center in
London this month. Vector has conducted training sessions for
specialists from Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and some 157 experts from
Russian regional offices of Rospotrebnadzor will be trained at
Vector in the coming months. Vector's training programs have
covered the issues of AI biosafety precautions and diagnostic
practices.

6. (SBU) Rospotrebnadzor and Vector have also been working to
establish formal cooperative agreements on AI with other CIS
countries. In addition to framework bilateral agreements on AI
cooperation between Rospotrebnadzor and several of the CIS
countries' health ministries, Vector itself has recently inked
collaboration agreements with influenza institutes in Ukraine,
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan on material and information
exchange, joint expeditions and field epidemiology work, and joint
training. Rospotrebnadzor and Vector are also working to sign
similar agreements with flu centers in the other CIS countries.

7. (SBU) Vector hosted a two-day Conference on Joint AI Prevention
for senior health officials from CIS countries in November 2006.
All of the CIS countries except Georgia attended and adopted a joint
action plan on pandemic preparedness for 2006-2009. The delegates
endorsed establishing Vector as a WHO influenza collaborating
center, noting that it would increase efficiency and reduce the cost
of regional anti-epidemic activities. Vector hosted a second
conference in May 2007 for working-level heads of CIS diagnostic
labs which over 50 experts attended.

Full Sample Sharing Still a Touchy Question
-------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Sharing of flu virus samples with the outside world remains
a thorny issue for Vector in particular and for Russia in general.
While Russia accepts samples from abroad and even developed a human
AI vaccine at the Research Institute of Influenza (RII) in St.
Petersburg using samples from the WHO Collaborating Center in Great
Britain (Ref C), it is less eager to share samples from Russia
outside its borders. For routine human influenza cases, Russia has
historically exchanged information and provided virus samples to the
CDC and other WHO Collaborating Centers. For AI samples, Vector
recently provided the CDC with some DNA material and sera from
humans who had contact with sick birds during the 2005 AI outbreak
in the Novosibirsk region. Vector is also now considering whether
to share virus isolates with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
in Memphis, Tennessee, but this would require special government
permission. In 2006, Russia dropped its legal objections to sharing
AI samples, but we are not aware of any cases in which AI samples
have actually been shared outside of Russia since then. Health

MOSCOW 00003379 003 OF 003


officials had maintained from 2004-2006 that Russian law absolutely
prohibited the sharing of AI samples, because they were included in
a list of dangerous pathogens that cannot be exported.

Vector's Relations With Other Russian Institutes
--------------------------------------------- ---

9. (SBU) The spending of lavish amounts of money (by Russian
standards) on Vector's AI capacity has created tensions with the
Research Institute of Influenza (RII) in St. Petersburg, one of
Russia's other two existing WHO national influenza centers. RII
Director Oleg Kiselyov was offended and took umbrage with
Onishchenko's initial desire to embrace all influenza research at
Vector, not just AI, which would have clearly usurped the St.
Petersburg Institute's traditional role as Russia's leading human
influenza center. This has spoiled somewhat the relationship
between the two institutes.

10. (SBU) Vector also has a spotty reputation for cooperating with
Russia's premier veterinary diagnostic and testing lab, the Federal
Center for Animal Health (ARRIAH) in Vladimir. Although ARRIAH is
supposed to take the lead role in AI outbreaks among birds, Vector
has in some cases conducted preliminary testing of specimens from
birds and then not shared those samples with ARRIAH.

11. (SBU) COMMENT: There is no doubt that Chief Medical Officer
Onishchenko has the political backing and sufficient funding to see
the WHO collaborating project through over the next two years at
Vector. However, Vector, Rospotrebnadzor, and the Health and Social
Development Ministry, will ultimately have to overcome the secretive
culture at Vector and the historical reluctance to share virus
samples with the outside world.

BURNS

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