Russian virologist who helped develop the country’s COVID vaccine has been found dead after an altercation with an intruder in his Moscow apartment, according to reports in local media.
Andrey Botikov, one of 18 scientists who developed the Sputnik V vaccine at the Gamaleya National Research Center, was identified as the man who had been discovered strangled in his Rogova Street home on March 2, Regnum reported, citing official sources. It previously reported that he had survived the attack.
The Investigative Committee of Russia (ICR) has now opened a murder investigation, believing that a 29-year-old man strangled the scientist with a belt during a disagreement before fleeing the scene.
While official accounts point towards a burglary gone wrong, the 47-year-old’s death comes amid a string of members of the Russian elite being found dead in mysterious circumstances over the past year, including scientists and businessmen.
In a statement, the ICR’s Moscow division didn’t name Botikov, but said investigators had identified and located the assailant “in the shortest possible time.”
“During the interrogation, he admitted his guilt, he was charged,” it added. “Previously, the defendant was prosecuted for committing a serious crime.” The ICR said the criminal investigation was ongoing.
Newsweek has reached out to the ICR to confirm the victim’s identity.
Botikov had worked as a virologist at the Gamaleya National Research Center since 2014, and was part of the team responsible for the nation’s vaccine—which Russia claimed had an efficacy at clinical trials of 91 percent, far higher than other vaccines.
However, the country has faced vaccine hesitancy domestically, with just over 60 percent of the Russian population receiving at least one dose, according to data by Johns Hopkins University, while deaths due to the virus have approached 400,000 since the pandemic began.
The decision to take the vaccine to market before stage 3 trials—when it would be tested for efficacy and safety—and the researchers’ sluggishness with sharing data with the international community also damaged its prospects in the global market, according to research by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Botikov’s apparent death comes just over two weeks after that of Major General Vladimir Makarov, a high-ranking Russian military official who according to state investigators took his own life after being relieved of duty.
In late November, the Russian Embassy in Paris confirmed the death of Vyacheslav Taran, a Russian billionaire and founder of Forex Club, in a helicopter crash near his home in southeastern France.
The former head of the Moscow Aviation Institute, Anatoly Gerashchenko, died last year after falling down “several flights of stairs.”