“If gain of function didn’t cause this ferocious pandemic, it most certainly can cause the next one.”
Dr. Robert Redfield (MD), an American virologist, senior science advisor for Novavax, and former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Dr. Marc Siegel (MD), professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health, have called for a “pause” and “moratorium” on controversial gain of function research in a Thursday opinion piece for The Hill.
The doctors begin with a reference to investigative journalist group Project Veritas, which recently released a video showing Pfizer’s head of research and development discussing the deliberate mutation of the SARS-COV-2 virus to create tailored vaccines for profit.
Doctors Redfield and Siegel then characterize the disclaimer issued by Pfizer in response to the social media uproar following the video’s release as “somewhat disturbing on its own” and call for the end of virus manipulation, recommending pharmaceutical companies instead “work with what comes from nature.”
“We don’t think anyone should be manipulating or engineering this or any other virus,” they write. “Instead, we think drug companies and others should work with what comes from nature. There are plenty of SARS-COV-2 subvariants around. And both Pfizer and Moderna have said they can produce new vaccines to cover emerging variants.”
They point out that Pfizer “now admits to conducting ‘research where the original SARS-COV-2 virus has been used to express the spike protein from new variants of concern'” and ask for justification for such research in light of potential dangers.
“Why is this necessary, and if more than one spike protein is used at once, couldn’t that accidentally create a virus worse than the one we are already dealing with?” Redfield and Siegel ask. “Why is Pfizer in the process of studying potential resistance to its drug, Paxlovid, using similar experiments? It said for the Paxlovid study, ‘in a limited number of cases when a full virus does not contain any known gain of function mutations, such virus may be engineered to enable the assessment of antiviral activity in cells.'”
Despite Pfizer’s denial, the doctors believe such engineering does amount to a “form” of gain of function.
“We think Pfizer and others should stick to incubating SARS-COV-2 with Paxlovid in their biosafety level 3 lab without inducing mutations. To us, that may be a form of gain of function. The risk of a lab leak is far too high no matter what precautions are taken,” they write. “Manipulating viruses to gauge their potential to infect or kill us is not a new problem but it remains highly problematic.”
Redfield and Siegel go on to criticize former National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) leader Dr. Anthony Fauci for his attempts to justify gain of function research, listing four reasons:
First, that there are suspicions that the current pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, may have been caused by a gain of function, specifically the presence of a furin cleavage site which makes it easier for the virus to attach to cells. This is not a characteristic typically found in this type of virus in nature.
Second, that the study of actual viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, has advanced our understanding of virology, reducing the need for intentional provocation of viruses to assess their potential.
Third, that “vaccine and therapeutic development can occur in real time based on the latest technology.”
And fourth, “and perhaps most importantly,” the doctors argue, that while there is an international consortium of scientists that has reportedly conducted highly controlled research on so-called Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogens (EPPP), the U.S. government and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have limited ability to oversee the research, particularly in other countries such as China.
“We also believe NIH’s highly restricted definition of what they consider to be gain of function research is contrived to allow expanded true gain of function research to go unchecked,” the doctors say, adding that they are “still concerned about the focus on ‘supervision’ as a sufficient control justification for this research.”
Redfield and Siegel state they “remain unconvinced that any supervision is foolproof,” even under the “strictest conditions of level 4 biosafety labs,” and emphasize that natural “barriers” that stop animal-to-human transmission of viruses are “put there by nature for a reason.”
The doctors end their piece by “calling for a moratorium on all gain of function research, where it is forbidden to deliberately alter a pathogen to provoke or assess its ability to spread among or sicken humans.” The moratorium should apply to current research underway at pharmaceutical companies, universities, and “anywhere else.”
They conclude: “If gain of function didn’t cause this ferocious pandemic, it most certainly can cause the next one.”