Russia has denied hacking Oxford University’s Covid-19 data as they have signed a deal with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the college to produce a vaccine.
Moscow’s sovereign wealth fund publicly announced details of the agreement after the Kremlin was accused of engaging in cyber espionage.
Britain, Canada and the United States said on Thursday that hackers backed by the Russian state were trying to steal COVID-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world – allegations the Kremlin denied.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, pictured right, along with president Vladimir Putin said Moscow has no need to steal vaccine information from Oxford University as it has already signed a deal to produce the medication
Oxford University is working on a Covid-19 vaccine along with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, however, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund has also joined the effort
Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said in an interview on Friday that Moscow did not need to steal secrets as it already had a deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture the potential British vaccine in Russia.
Dmitriev said: ‘AstraZeneca already has an agreement…. with R-Pharm (an RDIF portfolio company) on the complete localisation and production of the Oxford vaccine in Russia’.
Alexey Repik, R-Pharm’s board chairman, said on Friday his company had signed the deal.
‘There’s nothing that needs to be stolen,’ Dmitriev, who is involved in coordinating Russia’s own pursuit of a vaccine, told Reuters. ‘It’s all going to be given to Russia.’
AstraZeneca declined to comment. It said last month it was in talks with Russia and other countries about supply deals for its potential coronavirus vaccine.
Dmitriev said Russia’s acquisition of the British-developed vaccine was designed to complement, not replace its own home-grown vaccine, the one that Moscow is focusing on developing.
Western allegations that Moscow was trying to steal vaccine secrets looked like an attempt to undermine the credibility of Russia’s own vaccine, he said, describing it as one of the world’s most promising, together with the Oxford vaccine and a Chinese-developed one.
‘Those attacks show that other countries are not having an open approach, they are not happy for the Russian vaccine to succeed, and they are jealous of the Russian vaccine possibly being the first one and possibly being more efficient than others,’ he said.
‘It’s part of the global (vaccine) competition.’
Dominic Grieve, former chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who prepared a report on Moscow’s interference in the UK told The Telegraph: ‘The Russians are masters at disinformation, and what they say cannot ever be taken at face value.
‘I have no reason to think the UK Government is misleading the public and every reason to suppose that our security services have been categorically professional in tracking down where this hack came from.’
Dmitriev has said Russia’s own vaccine is set for regulatory approval next month and to be administered to a large swath of the Russian population in September. If that happens, that would make it the first COVID-19 vaccine in the world to be approved.
The first human trial of the vaccine, a month-long test on 38 people, ended this week. Researchers concluded that it was safe for use and induced an immune response, though the strength of that response remains unclear
The first human trial of the vaccine, a month-long test on 38 people, ended this week. Researchers concluded that it was safe for use and induced an immune response, though the strength of that response remains unclear.
A larger Phase III trial involving several thousand people is expected to begin in August after a 100-person Phase II trial wraps up on August 3.
Dmitriev, who has been injected himself with the Russian vaccine, said he believed it was superior to others. He said its effect lasted longer, it was based on proven virus technology, and had so far shown no side effects including on female fertility. Reuters could not verify those assertions.
The global vaccine race was about scientific prestige, international cooperation, and Russia’s desire to vaccinate its own population as quickly as possible in order to resume full economic activity, he said.
Rolling out a vaccine would not be a big money-spinner, said Dmitriev, because the Russian-made vaccine would be sold at not-for-profit prices and be free at point of delivery inside Russia.
Russia’s interest in the Oxford vaccine, which he described as ‘very good’, stemmed from a desire to help international efforts to roll out a vaccine. Moscow will deliver the British-developed vaccine to other countries who want it, he said.