File Photo: This illustration picture taken on November 23, 2020 shows a bottle reading “Vaccine Covid-19” and a syringe next to the Pfizer and Biontech logo. (AFP)
US drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on Wednesday that regulation documents related to their development of a COVID-19 vaccine had been "unlawfully accessed" in a cyberattack on Europe's medicines regulator.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA), responsible for assessing and approving medicines and vaccines for the European Union, said hours earlier it had been targeted in a cyberattack. It gave no further details.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they were waiting for further information from the EMA, but the agency "has assured us that the cyber attack will have no impact on the timeline for its review."
It was not immediately clear when or how the attack took place, who was responsible or what other information may have been compromised.
A spokeswoman for BioNTech declined further comment. Pfizer did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The two companies said in a joint statement that they had been informed by the EMA "that the agency has been subject to a cyber attack and that some documents relating to the regulatory submission for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate ... had been unlawfully accessed."
They added that "no BioNTech or Pfizer systems have been breached in connection with this incident and we are unaware of any personal data of study participants being accessed."
The EMA gave few details about the attack in its earlier statement, saying only that it was investigating the incident with help from law enforcement.
"EMA cannot provide additional details whilst the investigation is ongoing. Further information will be made available in due course," it said in a statement.
Hacking attempts against healthcare and medical organisations have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic as attackers ranging from state-backed spies to cyber criminals scramble to obtain the latest information about the outbreak.
Reuters has previously documented how hackers linked to North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, China and Russia have on separate occasions been accused of trying to steal information about the virus and its potential treatments.