(Reuters) – US drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on Wednesday that documents related to their development of a COVID-19 vaccine had been "illegally displayed" in a cyber attack on the European Medicines Agency.
The European Medicines Agency, which evaluates medicines and vaccines for the European Union, said hours earlier that it had targeted a cyber-attack. It gave no further details.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they did not believe that any personal data from the trial participants had been compromised and the EMA "has assured us that the cyberattack will have no effect 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 could have been compromised.
The two companies said that they had been informed by the EMA that the agency had been the victim of a cyberattack and that certain documents concerning the submission of authority for Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine candidate COVID-1
They added that" no BioNTech or Pfizer systems have been breached in connection with this incident and we are not aware that all participants in the study have been identified by the data obtained.
A BioNTech spokeswoman declined further comment. Pfizer did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is among the top contenders in a global race to repel COVID-19. already in the UK, which last week approved the vaccine for emergency use.
But the vaccine is still being studied by the European Union, and the EMA has said it would complete its review by December 29, although it has said its schedule may change.  The EMA statement provided few details about the attack and said it only investigated with the help of law enforcement.
"The EMA cannot provide further details while the investigation is ongoing. Additional information will be made available in due course, "said a statement.
Hacking attempts against healthcare and medical organizations have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic as attackers. Everything from state-sponsored spies to cybercriminals climbing for information
Reuters has previously reported allegations that hackers linked to North Korea, South Korea, Iran, Vietnam, China and Russia have on several occasions attempted to steal information about the virus and potential treatments.
Reuters has documented that espionage campaigns were targeted to a number of drug and vaccine development companies including Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Moderna. Regulators and international organizations such as the World Health Organization have also been repeatedly attacked.
Stealing information on how to manufacture an effective winning vaccine – or even with only obtaining information about how the cow more to be distributed – would be intelligence gold dust as the world fights one of the most damaging pandemics in living memory.
The respiratory virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has infected more than 68 million people worldwide, according to a Reuters report. More than 1.5 million people have died.
More insurance and risk management news about the coronavirus crisis here .