With the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in full force, and with Moderna having just published encouraging human trial results, news that Russian spies have been targeting vaccine developers in three countries is enough to make pharma investors extremely nervous.
Reports on Thursday emerged that Russian spies are targeting vaccine developers in the United States, Canada and the UK.
Security agencies from all three countries issued a joint statement saying that while espionage had not disrupted work on a vaccine, Russian hackers have been trying to steal information about vaccine efforts.
More specifically, the agencies are blaming the attacks on a Russian intelligence hacking group called “APT29” (aka “Cozy Bear” or “the Dukes”), which was also linked to the 2016 attacks on the Democratic National Committee.
“Throughout 2020, APT29 has targeted various organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines,” agencies said in a warning.
The agencies said the attacks were also directed at the energy industry.
According to the UK’s NCSC security agency, the group “almost certainly operate as part of Russian intelligence services”--an assessment that is supported by the U.S. Department for Homeland Security (DHS), and other Canadian and U.S. agencies.
“APT29’s campaign of malicious activity is ongoing, predominantly against government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets to steal valuable intellectual property,” the NCSC said.
Russian has denied the accusations.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Russia "has nothing to do" with the hacking attacks targeting organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development.
The security warning comes right after Moderna (NASDAQ:MRNA) earlier this week saw the results from its early stage human trials for a COVID-19 vaccine published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The trials showed “robust immune response” in all 45 patients, with all patients producing neutralizing antibodies, which is believed to be key to building some level of immunity against COVID-19.
The vultures were bound to come out of the woodwork on a COVID vaccine--Russian or not. And now the stakes are even higher.
Moderna is reportedly taking a huge risk now, beginning to manufacture millions of doses of a drug that is still experimental in order to be able to rapidly deploy once they have FDA approval.
Moderna has also finalized a Phase 3 study that is expected to include 30,000 participants and will launch later this month.
On July 21st, five U.S. companies will testify before Congress about the development of a COVID vaccine, including AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna and Pfizer.
At this point, it’s impossible to put a price on a COVID vaccine. But Moderna is a prime example, with its skyhigh valuation that has now hit $31 billion even though it’s a biopharma company with zero approved products to date.
By Fred Dunkley for Safehaven.com
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