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Saturday, July 18, 2020

July 18, 2020
Kirill Dmitriev, 45 (left), claims that he and wife Natalia Popova (right) have been given Moscow's coronavirus vaccine, and now have twice the antibodies of a typical patient - Mikhail Metzel/TASS

The head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund has claimed that he and his figure skater wife have already been vaccinated against coronavirus using an 'experimental' shot developed in Moscow.

Kirill Dmitriev, 45-year-old manager of the $10billion Russian Direct Investment Fund, said that he, wife Natalia Popova and their family developed 'double the antibodies' of a typical patient after being injected.

The Kremlin is now preparing to enter Phase III trials of the vaccine and plans to start mass immunisation before the end of the year, he added, potentially making it the first country in the world to do so.

But his announcement came just house after the UK, US and Canada accused Russian hackers of targeting researchers at Oxford University, who are already in Phase III trials of their own vaccine.

That has fueled speculation that the hackers - from a group known as Cozy Bear which has links to the Russian state - managed to steal sensitive information and have used it to advance their own research.

British intelligence refused to reveal whether any information was stolen.

Mr Dmitriev rubbished that speculation in an interview with Times Radio, accusing Western states of being 'scared at the success' of the Russian vaccine and trying to tarnish the good news.

The first human trial of the vaccine, a month-long test on 38 people, ended this week, he said.

Researchers concluded that it is safe for use and induces an immune response, though the strength of that response is as yet unclear.

A larger Phase III trial involving several thousand people is expected to begin in August, Mr Dmitriev added.

'We believe that based on the current results it will be approved in Russia in August and in some other countries in September..., making it possibly the first vaccine to be approved in the world,' he concluded.

As head of Russia's wealth fund, Kirill is a powerful figure in Moscow - even more so since his wife is the director of Innopraktika, a foundation run by Katerina Tikhonova, who is widely believed to be Putin's eldest daughter.

As well as being the fund's director, Popova is a host for state-owned Russian TV channel Rossiya 24 where she presents science programmes and works as a model.

Images posted on Russian social media networks show her posing with big cats, fast cars, and in glamorous destinations.

It is not clear when exactly they married, though it is thought to be before 2018. They were pictured together at an event in Sevastopol, in occupied Crimea, last year.

Dmitriev said the Russian Phase III trial will be conducted at home and in two Middle Eastern countries, and will begin after a 100-person Phase II trial wraps up on Aug. 3.

Russia was in talks with Saudi Arabia on being a trial site as well as a manufacturing partner, he told a separate news conference.

Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, which developed the Russian candidate vaccine, is producing doses for clinical trials, while private pharmaceutical firms Alium - part of the Sistema conglomerate- R-Pharm and are handling bottling.

Both are updating their lab setup to be able to take over production within the next couple of months, Dmitriev said.

'There's a general sense that for so-called herd immunity in Russia you need to vaccinate between 40 million and 50 million people,' he told Reuters.

'So we believe we will be in good shape producing around 30 million (doses domestically) this year and then we can finalise vaccination next year.'

Russia had also struck manufacturing deals with five other countries and could be producing up to 170 million doses abroad this year, Dmitriev said.

He declined to say where or give any details on pricing, but said countries in Latin America, the Middle East and elsewhere had expressed interest in importing the vaccine.

The UK - backed up by the US and Canada - said on Thursday that researchers at Oxford University working on AstraZeneca's vaccine were targeted in the hack.

The vaccine study is widely viewed as the world's most advanced, alongside another study being conducted in China.

Just like the Russian vaccine, Phase II trials have been completed with Phase III testing underway in Brazil.

'Positive news' is expected from the Phase II trials imminently, with ITV reporting that the vaccine is producing an immune response.

Britain's National Cyber Security Centre called out a hacking group called Cozy Bear, also known as ATP29, as being responsible for the hack on Thursday.

The NCSC says it is 95 per cent certain that the group is operated by the Russian intelligence services.

The group was accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US election and releasing a tranche of emails with the aim of swinging the vote.

In 2015, it was implicated in an attack on the Pentagon that brought down the Joint Staff email system and its internet.

And in 2017 it was accused of targeting the Dutch national election, forcing the government to abandon electronic ballots and count votes by hand.

The move was likely intended as revenge after Dutch security experts managed to hack into a CCTV system in Moscow and watch the hackers at work.

Through the cameras they managed to identify methods the hackers were using, and identify individual members of the group.

Just this week the UK government accused Russian hackers of leaking details of trade negotiations with the US to try and help Labour win the 2019 election.

While the group was not named, Cozy Bear will be top of the list of suspects.

'APT29 has been successfully compromising systems now for over a decade across the globe,' Tony Cole, chief technology officer at Attivo Networks, told The Telegraph.

'The pandemic has given them a new and additional target to steal research.'


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