Covid-19 origins, the Wuhan lab, US funding, and vaccine connection

Note: this post was first published Sept. 25, 2020.

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has given millions of taxpayer dollars to a U.S.-based group that partnered with the Wuhan, China lab to study bat coronaviruses.
  • NIH cancelled some funding under pressure in April after the partnership with the Wuhan lab was reported by the media.
  • A few weeks ago, NIH awarded more tax money to the U.S. group.
  • Scientists have long experimented with and genetically altered coronavirus to use as a vaccine “vector.”
Wuhan Institute of Virology, China

Starting in 2014, the National Institutes of Health granted millions of dollars in U.S. tax money to a “global environmental health nonprofit” called EcoHealth Alliance based in New York City.

The grant was for an eleven-year-long project entitled: “Understanding the risk of bat coronavirus emergence.” It aimed to study coronavirus in bats in China to determine which strains had the greatest risk of spillover to humans. (In other words, in hopes of preventing something like the Covid-19 pandemic and/or providing quick mitigation.)

A total of  $3,748,715 was given for the project from 2014-2019.

EcoHealth Alliance’s partners on the taxpayer-funded project included at least one scientist at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Chinese researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology also “received assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is located in the area of China where scientists believe the Covid-19 outbreak originated. Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that the virus was somehow released from the lab, either by accident or intentionally.

To date, there is no public evidence revealing whether Covid-19 was naturally-occurring, or involved a stop at the Wuhan lab, which was conducting coronavirus research.

U.S. State Department cables had warned of risky practices at the China lab prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, according to The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin.

One cable in 2018 warned “that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.”

EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak has reportedly been partnered with Wuhan Institute of Virology virologist Shi Zhengli “for more than 15 years.” Zhengli was the scientist named in State Department cables as conducting supposedly risky research on bat coronaviruses that could be dangerous.

In other words: if the Wuhan lab research is ultimately linked to the Covid-19 outbreak, it appears as though it would involve to a project and a scientist who were partnered with and funded by the U.S.

Would U.S. officials and or scientists, therefore, have their own reasons to steer public scrutiny away from the potential lab connection? Could that be a reason why when the perfectly logical question is asked, there seems to be an organized campaign to controversialize whoever asks it and claim it’s a “debunked conspiracy theory”?

Daszak stated in April that “no fund from [the grant] have been sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nor has any contract been signed,” but he did not provide other details at that time.

The publication “Nature” states that the Wuhan Institute of Virology “is a subrecipient” on the grant of U.S. taxpayer money to EcoHealth Alliance.

With the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s possible role in the Covid-19 outbreak an open question, the Trump Administration cancelled remaining funding for the EcoHealth Alliance project in April.

After receiving political backlash for the cancelled funding, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reinstated the grant, but immediately suspended the China bat coronavirus part of the project pending the Wuhan Institute of Virology granting a request for an outside inspection. NIH also made the project contingent upon getting responses to inquiries regarding the lab’s practices and the Covid-19 outbreak. NIH also wanted EcoHealth Alliance to obtain a virus sample from Wuhan.

EcoHealth Alliance criticized the conditions saying they made its research “impossible.”

On Aug. 27, it was announced that the National Institutes of Health had awarded an even larger grant of taxpayer money, $7.5 million, to EcoHealth Alliance. EcoHealth Alliance is reportedly one of 11 institutions and research teams approved to receive part of an $82 million bundle of U.S. tax money to study viruses crossing from nature into people, and rapid response strategies.

EcoHealth said its federally-funded research also involved “designing vaccines.”

Research “aimed to analyze the risk of coronavirus emergence and help in designing vaccines and drugs to protect us from COVID-19 and other coronavirus threats…”

EcoHealth

Scientists have long experimented with coronavirus to use as a vaccine “vector”

Scientists have long conducted research into the “potential of coronaviruses as vectors for vaccine development” noting that, “[s]everal features make these viruses attractive as vaccine and therapeutic vectors.”

Some research has involved “recombinant” coronaviruses altered in a lab, “bringing together genetic material from multiple sources.”

Scientists have also noted “unique safety issues associated with virus-vectored vaccines,” warning that such vaccines could mix with wild strains of coronavirus and “theoretically generate a more pathogenic strain.”

Viral vector vaccines use live viruses to carry DNA into human cells. The DNA contained in the virus encodes antigens that, once expressed in the infected human cells, elicit an immune response.

Emory University

Read some of the research below.

Coronaviruses as Vectors: Position Dependence of Foreign Gene Expression

Coronaviruses are the enveloped, positive-stranded RNA viruses with the largest RNA genomes known. Several features make these viruses attractive as vaccine and therapeutic vectors: (i) deletion of their nonessential genes is strongly attenuating; (ii) the genetic space thus created allows insertion of foreign information; and (iii) their tropism can be modified by manipulation of the viral spike. We studied here their ability to serve as expression vectors by inserting two different foreign genes and evaluating systematically the genomic position dependence of their expression, using a murine coronavirus as a model. Renilla and firefly luciferase expression cassettes, each provided with viral transcription regulatory sequences (TRSs), were inserted at several genomic positions, both independently in different viruses and combined within one viral genome. Recombinant viruses were generated by using a convenient method based on targeted recombination and host cell switching. In all cases high expression levels of the foreign genes were observed without severe effects on viral replication in vitro. The expression of the inserted gene appeared to be dependent on its genomic position, as well as on the identity of the gene. Expression levels increased when the luciferase gene was inserted closer to the 3′ end of the genome. The foreign gene insertions generally reduced the expression of upstream viral genes. The results are consistent with coronavirus transcription models in which the transcription from upstream TRSs is attenuated by downstream TRSs. Altogether, our observations clearly demonstrate the potential of coronaviruses as (multivalent) expression vectors.

  • Copyright © 2003 American Society for Microbiology

https://jvi.asm.org/content/77/21/11312.short

Full text:

https://jvi.asm.org/content/77/21/11312.full

Coronavirus Reverse Genetics and Development of Vectors for Gene Expression

The large cloning capacity of coronaviruses (>5 kb) and the possibility of engineering the tissue and species tropism to target expression to different organs and animal species, including humans, has increased the potential of coronaviruses as vectors for vaccine development and, possibly, gene therapy.

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/3-540-26765-4_6

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/3-540-26765-4_6

Unique safety issues associated with virus-vectored vaccines: Potential for and theoretical consequences of recombination with wild type virus strains

Recombination of a live virus-vectored vaccine with a circulating or reactivated latent virus could theoretically generate a more pathogenic strain

Unique safety issues associated with virus-vectored vaccines: Potential for and theoretical consequences of recombination with wild type virus strains

Attenuated viruses contained in the oral poliovirus vaccine frequently recombine with related indigenous human enterovirus strains to produce circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses (cVDPV), which can cause paralytic disease

Unique safety issues associated with virus-vectored vaccines: Potential for and theoretical consequences of recombination with wild type virus strains

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X16302250#bib0395

Coronavirus derived expression systems

Thus, coronaviruses are promising virus vectors for vaccine development and, possibly, for gene therapy.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168165601002814

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168165601002814

Multivalent and Multipathogen Viral Vector Vaccines

https://cvi.asm.org/content/24/1/e00298-16

Research on rabies virus to use as vaccine vector

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1361274/

Dendritic Cell-Specific Antigen Delivery by Coronavirus Vaccine Vectors Induces Long-Lasting Protective Antiviral and Antitumor Immunity

We report here that biosafe coronavirus-based vaccine vectors facilitate delivery of multiple antigens and immunostimulatory cytokines to professional antigen-presenting cells in vitro and in vivo.

Dendritic Cell-Specific Antigen Delivery by Coronavirus Vaccine Vectors Induces Long-Lasting Protective Antiviral and Antitumor Immunity

https://mbio.asm.org/content/1/4/e00171-10.short

Coronavirus-based multigene HIV vaccine vectors

Coronavirus-based vectors are a promising system to genetically deliver multiple heterologous genes to specific target cells.

https://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R21-AI062246-02

https://grantome.com/grant/NIH/R21-AI062246-02

Multigene RNA Vector Based on Coronavirus Transcription

https://jvi.asm.org/content/77/18/9790.short

Inactivated SARS-CoV Vaccine Prepared from Whole Virus Induces a High Level of Neutralizing Antibodies in BALB/c Mice

The inactivated vaccine was prepared by SARS-CoV virus propagation in Vero cells, with subsequent  β-propiolactone inactivation and Sepharose 4FF column chromatography purification.

Inactivated SARS-CoV Vaccine Prepared from Whole Virus Induces a High Level of Neutralizing Antibodies in BALB/c Mice

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