Hackers are stealing Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine knowledge in Europe, firms say

© Reuters. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is headquartered in London

By Jack Stubbs

LONDON (Reuters) -US drug maker Pfizer (NYSE 🙂 and its German partner BioNTech said on Wednesday that documents related to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine were “illegally accessed” in a cyberattack on the European Medicines Agency.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which evaluates medicines and vaccines for the European Union, said hours earlier it had been targeted in a cyberattack. There were no further details.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they do not believe that any personal data of study participants has been compromised, and EMA “has assured us that the cyberattack will not affect the schedule for its review”.

It was not immediately clear when or how the attack took place, who was responsible, or what other information might have been compromised.

The two companies said they had been informed by the EMA “that the agency was exposed to a cyberattack and that some documents related to the filing of approvals for the vaccine candidate COVID-19 by Pfizer and BioNTech … were illegally accessed “.

They added that “no BioNTech or Pfizer systems were breached in connection with this incident, and we do not know that study participants were identified by accessing the data.”

A BioNTech spokeswoman declined to comment. Pfizer did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is among the top competitors in a global race for COVID-19. It is already being given in the UK, where the emergency vaccine was approved last week.

However, the vaccine is still under investigation by the European Union. The EMA has announced that it will complete its review by December 29, although its schedule may have changed.

The EMA statement gave few details about the attack, saying that it was only investigated with the help of law enforcement agencies.

“The EMA cannot provide any additional details while the investigation is ongoing. Further information will be provided in due course,” said a statement.

Attempts at hacking health care providers and medical organizations have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as attackers ranging from government-sponsored spies to cyber criminals seek information.

Reuters previously reported allegations that hackers associated with North Korea, South Korea, Iran, Vietnam, China and Russia tried on various occasions to steal information about the virus and possible treatments.

Reuters has documented espionage campaigns targeting a number of pharmaceutical and vaccine development companies, including Gilead (NASDAQ :), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE :), Novavax (NASDAQ 🙂 and Modern (NASDAQ :). Regulatory agencies and international organizations such as the World Health Organization have also been targeted repeatedly.

Stealing information about how an effective vaccine can be made – or even information about how it’s distributed – would be gold dust as the world battles one of the most damaging pandemics in living memory.

The respiratory virus that emerged in China in late 2019 has infected more than 68 million people worldwide, according to a Reuters report. More than 1.5 million people have died.

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