According to Reuters, North Korean hackers posed as recruiters on networking site LinkedIn and WhatsApp in order to approach AstraZeneca staff, including those working on coronavirus research, with fake job offers.
The suspected hackers then sent documents — some using Russian email addresses — purporting to be job descriptions that were in fact laced with malicious code designed to give the hackers access to the victim’s computers, Reuters reported.
According to Reuters’ sources, the hackers are not thought to have been successful.
“Oxford University is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre to ensure our COVID-19 research has the best possible cyber security and protection,” a university spokesperson told CNN.
The NCSC has not directly commented on the matter, but told CNN on Friday that it is “committed to protecting our most critical assets, the health sector, and crucial vaccine research and development against threats.”
CNN has reached out to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva for an official comment but has yet to receive a response.
In a telephone conversation with CNN, a member of staff at the mission said the Reuters report was “fake news,” alleging that the information had been “fabricated.”
Speaking on Friday, lawmaker Ha Tae-Keung did not say when the hacking occurred or which drug companies were targeted, but confirmed North Korea had made attempts to hack South Korean pharmaceutical companies that are developing local vaccines for the coronavirus.
Rival vaccines record 95 per cent efficacy
The AstraZeneca vaccine is also cheaper.
AstraZeneca, which has pledged it won’t make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, has reached agreements with governments and international health organisations that put its cost at about US$2.50 (A$3.50) a dose.
Pfizer’s vaccine costs about US$20 (A$27), while Moderna’s is US$15 (A$20) to US$25 (A$34), based on agreements the companies have struck to supply their vaccines to the US government.
All three vaccines must be approved by regulators before they can be widely distributed.
Oxford researchers and AstraZeneca stressed they weren’t competing with other projects and said multiple vaccines would be needed to reach enough of the world’s population to end the pandemic.
“We need to be able to make a lot of vaccine for the world quickly, and it’s best if we can do it with different technologies so that if one technology runs into a roadblock, then we’ve got alternatives, we’ve got diversity,” professor Sarah Gilbert, a leader of the Oxford team, told The Associated Press.
“Diversity is going to be good here, but also in terms of manufacturing, we don’t want to run out of raw materials.”
The AstraZeneca trial looked at two different dosing regimens.
A half-dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose at least one month later was 90 per cent effective. Another approach, giving patients two full doses one month apart, was 62 per cent effective.
That means that, overall, when both ways of dosing are considered, the vaccine showed an efficacy rate of 70 per cent.
Prof. Gilbert said researchers aren’t sure why giving a half-dose followed by a larger dose was more effective, and they plan to investigate further. But the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to get the best response, she said.
“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well …,” Prof. Gilbert said.
“I’m glad that we looked at more than one dose because it turns out to be really important.”
The vaccine uses a weakened version of a common cold virus that is combined with genetic material for the characteristic spike protein of the virus that causes COVID-19.
After vaccination, the spike protein primes the immune system to attack the virus if it later infects the body.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the finding that a smaller initial dose is more effective than a larger one is good news because it may reduce costs and mean more people can be vaccinated with a given supply of the vaccine.
“The report that an initial half-dose is better than a full dose seems counterintuitive for those of us thinking of vaccines as normal drugs: With drugs, we expect that higher doses have bigger effects, and more side-effects,” Mr Openshaw said.
“But the immune system does not work like that.”
UK and Brazil trials
Overall, there were 131 cases of COVID-19.
Details on how many people in the various groups became ill weren’t released, but researchers said they will be published in the next 24 hours.
Late-stage trials of the vaccine are also underway in the US, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Kenya and Latin America, with further trials planned for other European and Asian countries.
Researchers said they expect to add the half dose-full dose regimen to the US trial in a “matter of weeks.’’
While the trials were quickly restarted in most countries after investigators determined the condition wasn’t related to the vaccine, the FDA delayed the US study for more than a month before it was allowed to resume.
AstraZeneca has been ramping up manufacturing capacity, so it can supply hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine starting in January, Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said earlier this month.
“This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against COVID-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency,’’ Mr Soriot said.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he felt “a great sense of relief” at the news from AstraZeneca.
Just months ago, “the idea that by November we would have three vaccines, all of which have got high effectiveness … I would have given my eye teeth for,” Mr Hancock said.
From the beginning of their collaboration with AstraZeneca, Oxford scientists have demanded that the vaccine be made available equitably to everyone in the world so rich countries can’t corner the market as has happened during previous pandemics.
Leaders of the world’s most powerful nations on Sunday agreed to work together to ensure “affordable and equitable access” to COVID-19 drugs, tests and vaccines.
“If we don’t have the vaccine available in many, many countries, and we just protect a small number of them, then we can’t go back to normal because the virus is going to keep coming back and causing problems again,” Prof. Gilbert said.
“No one is safe until we’re all safe.”
-with Associated Press
Source: 9News | World News