Home Office minister Damian Hinds would not be drawn on allegations that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s design was used to create Russia’s Sputnik V jab, instead saying more generally that “state activity” was involved in “industrial espionage”.
His comments come after a report by the Sun newspaper which suggests “security services” sources have evidence that Russian intelligence agents had stolen the Oxford vaccine design.
On Monday, Mr Hinds told LBC: “We live in world, I am afraid, where there is state activity seeking to engage in industrial espionage and economic espionage, there are cyber attacks that happen and so on.
“I won’t comment on the specific case that you mention because that wouldn’t be right to do in detail, but it would be fair to say, correct to say, that we face threats of this type that are different, they are more sophisticated, they are more extensive than they ever have been before.
“The face of espionage, the face of spying, is very different from when you and I were growing up and we need to constantly upgrade our capability. These are very serious matters.”
Conservative MP Bob Seely, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Sun that the UK needs to “get serious about Russian and Chinese espionage”.
The Isle of Wight MP said: “Whether it is stealing the design for AstraZeneca or blackmailing us over energy by these authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, we need to get wise to them.”
Last year, UK security services had accused Russian spies of trying to steal details of coronavirus vaccine research being carried out by the UK, US and Canada.
In 2020, then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab condemned a “shabby” disinformation campaign by Russia, which sought to discredit the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The campaign suggested the vaccine could turn people into monkeys because it uses a chimpanzee virus as a vector – even though that is a common practice in vaccine development.
The campaign was allegedly targeted at countries where Russia wanted to sell its own Sputnik V vaccine, as well as at Western nations.