Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Pfizer admits 'engineering' Covid mutants in lab studies to ensure its antiviral drug works on new variants — but pharma giant insists tests were not 'gain of function’ and did not pose risk to public

I am not too critical of this. The more we know about what the virus can do, the better. But they should probably have sought some form of approval for the work

Pfizer has admitted it ‘engineered’ mutated Covid viruses in lab tests to ensure its vaccine and drugs remained effective against new variants – but the company denies the experiments posed a risk to the public.

In a press release sneaked out on Friday night, the pharma giant finally responded to an undercover video that went viral last week in which a supposed director at the firm claimed the company was exploring 'directed evolution' research on monkeys to make the virus 'more potent'.

Jordon Trishton Walker, who appears to have been a senior staffer in Pfizer's research and development division, was caught making the explosive claim in a sting by the right-wing activist group Project Veritas.

Pfizer flatly denied conducting gain of function or directed evolution research on monkeys but admitted that ‘in a limited number of cases’ it altered the virus and tested new mutations against its Covid antiviral drug Paxlovid in Petri dishes.

The New York-based firm claims the experiments are essential to get ahead of drug-resistant strains and says similar tests are carried out by 'many companies and academic institutions in the US and around the world'.

But DailyMail.com spoke to several independent virologists and epidemiologists who were split about whether Pfizer's experiments posed a risk to the public.

Professor Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has been an outspoken advocate of the lab leak theory, the idea Covid escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

He told DailyMail.com that Pfizer's press release 'unequivocally' indicates that 'Pfizer and its collaborators performed... high-risk gain-of-function research and enhanced potential pandemic pathogens research'.

But Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading in the UK, told this website: 'I don't find it [Pfizer's statement] alarming for a number of reasons.'

Paxlovid works by blocking the virus from releasing an enzyme crucial for Covid to replicate when it enters the body, known as the 3CL protease, explained Professor Jones.

He said Pfizer's experiments involve looking at 'what changes to the sequence of the protease gene would be necessary to make the virus no longer sensitive to the drug'.

'So they make a range of mutations in the virus, led by computational predictions, and then culture that mutated virus in the drug to see if indeed it is no longer sensitive and if so by what degree,' he added.

150 experts call for gain-of-function research to CONTINUE

The group - mainly virologists and biologists from the US and the UK - argue the experiments are necessary to stop future outbreaks.

'Many of the mutants they make will not do anything, but some could make a Paxlovid-resistant virus. The risk would be that this could escape and spread, making the drug useless.

'My point is that such a virus remains unaltered in every other way, so the overall risk [of the virus being able to infect people and leaking from the lab] is very small.'

Professor Jones said this tiny risk is outweighed by the benefit of 'being ahead' of the virus' evolution in nature.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia in the UK, also told DailyMail.com: 'The press release doesn’t cause me too much concern. 'To me, it doesn’t look like Pfizer is doing anything that isn’t being done by many other groups.'

His comments were echoed by Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading. Dr Clarke told DailyMail.com: 'These are not experiments which might risk the generation of a new variant that transmits more readily between people.

'What Pfizer are doing is to look at how Covid becomes resistant to nirmatrelvir, a component of their PAXLOVID antiviral medicine. 'They are looking to see what mutations to the molecule that nirmatrelvir’s targets can make it resistant to the drug.

'This is important because scientists don’t fully understand how viruses might become resistant to nirmatrelvir.

'These sorts of experiments are routine in the development of new anti-infective drugs and are required by regulators around the world. 'Without this level of understanding, we could end up relying too heavily on drugs that rapidly become useless.'

Pfizer's response was released at 8pm on Friday, three days after the Project Veritas video was released, unleashing a frenzy on social media.

The post was also based out of the Pfizer Pearl River R&D facility, a research lab around 20 miles from New York.

It is the company's only biosafety level three (BSL-3) lab out of its nine major research and development sites in the US and UK.

BSL-3 labs are authorized to handle dangerous pathogens. Experiments at these labs often involve tinkering with animal viruses to advance treatments and vaccines that could be used in a future outbreak.

In BSL-3 labs, researchers do all experiments in a ‘biosafety cabinet’ — an enclosed, ventilated workspace for handling materials contaminated with pathogens.

Work on the live virus that causes Covid must be carried out at a BSL-3 or BSL-4 lab.

Pfizer denied that its work qualifies as gain of function, a loaded term that has become synonymous with questions about Covid's origin.

This type of research involves tinkering with viruses to make them more lethal or infectious - hoping to get ahead of a future outbreak and develop treatments.

The authors of two United Nations reports into the pandemic's origins say a laboratory leak was the most likely cause of Covid.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology - located just 8miles from where the first cluster of cases were detected - was carrying out similar research on bat coronaviruses in the years predating the pandemic using US taxpayer money.

The WIV received government grants through a subcontractor known as the EcoHealth Alliance.

Gain of function was largely restricted in the US until 2017 when the National Institutes of Health began to allow it to take place using government funds.

Research teams wanting to do gain of function research in the US using government grants must have their work approved by an independent review panel that decides whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

But Congress admits privately funded research by pharmaceutical companies are not subject to the same oversight.

Pfizer also claimed that its lab work was not 'directed evolution'. This research is intended to imitate the process of natural selection and push a virus' mutations down a certain path. It can be performed in living organisms - such as monkeys - or in vitro (in cells).

Pfizer did admit that it modified the original Covid virus to produce the spike protein of new variants to test them against its vaccine.

Most scientists agree this does not count as gain of function because the variants already exist in nature and infect people.

The grey area appears to be Pfizer's admission that it conducted 'in vitro resistance selection experiments' on its antiviral drug Paxlovid. In vitro resistance selection experiments involve predicting how a virus will mutate as it develops resistance to treatments.

Their purpose was to test which mutations would need to occur to the piece of the virus that Paxlovid targets to render it ineffective. But exactly what these experiments involve is unclear and Pfizer refused to comment again when approached by DailyMail.com today.

Pfizer's official release does not refer to Project Veritas or the alleged employee Mr Walker.

Instead, the statement opens with: 'Allegations have recently been made related to gain of function and directed evolution research at Pfizer and the company would like to set the record straight.'

It adds: 'In the ongoing development of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, Pfizer has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research.'

But the company does admit to using the original Covid strain to express the spike protein of new variants of concern to test its vaccine.

'This work is undertaken once a new variant of concern has been identified by public health authorities.'

Most scientists endorsed this research because it helped governments assess how effective their vaccine rollouts would hold up against new variants like Omicron and Delta when those variants took off.


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH) Also here

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com (TONGUE-TIED)

https://immigwatch.blogspot.com (IMMIGRATION WATCH) Also here

https://awesternheart.blogspot.com (THE PSYCHOLOGIST)

http://jonjayray.com/blogall.html More blogs


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