NIH examines whether Boston University’s COVID experiments should have triggered review

Boston University refutes report that lab created dangerous COVID strain

Boston University refutes report that lab created dangerous COVID strain


The National Institutes of Health is currently examining whether experiments performed at Boston University should have triggered a federal review, the agency says, after scientists at the school tested the strains they created of the COVID-19 virus. 19 combining the ancestral and Omicron variants.

Federal health officials say they are investigating whether scientists should have asked their permission before undertaking research that could lead to ‘gain of function’ in the virus gaining new or improved abilities, which may be “intrinsically risky.”

And locally, a spokesperson for the Boston Public Health Commission said it is currently reviewing study scientists’ application materials “to confirm that the research was conducted according to protocols and was properly supervised. “.

The commission approved a proposed research protocol submitted by the scientists in March 2020, the spokesperson said.

However, Boston University says its research followed “all required regulatory obligations and protocols” to safely experiment with viruses.

“Before anything is done in [National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories]it goes through multiple layers of security scrutiny and that’s done by committees that are part of Boston University and also committees that are outside of, independent of, BU,” Robert Davey, Professor at Laboratories National Institutes of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Boston University, says in a statement.

Scientists were studying the role that the highly mutated spike protein of the Omicron variant might play in its generally milder gravity compared to previous waves.

The mice were exposed to “chimeric recombinant” versions created by the scientists, which carried the spike protein of the Omicron variant combined with the “backbone” of the original strain. Similar types of recombinant variants have evolved in the wild.

Their findings were released on Friday as preprint which has not yet been peer reviewed. The NIH review was reported for the first time by StatNews.

Although NIH money was not directly sought for the experiments, the agency is investigating whether it may have yet been submitted to their subsidy policy.

The experiments may also have required prior authorization from the federal government. rules governing experiments that could lead to “gain-of-function” in the virus, the NIH said. This type of research is supposed to be approved by a panel of experts convened by the federal government before it can be funded.

However, Boston University says it “was under no obligation to disclose this research” to the NIH.

While funding from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been recognized by scientists in their diaryBoston University said the grants were only for “tools and platforms” used by scientists.

“NIAID funding was acknowledged because it was used to help develop the tools and platforms that were used in this research; they did not fund this research directly. NIH funding was also acknowledged for a shared instrumentation grant that helped support pathology studies,” university spokeswoman Rachel Lapal Cavallario said in a statement.

News of NIH investigation first follows coverage of Boston University research in the Daily Mail. The university had denounced the tabloid for sensationalising its research, with “false and inaccurate” reports that took their findings out of context.

For example, these early reports of results pointed out that 80% of infected mice died after scientists infected the animals with the recombinant strain, while none died after being exposed to the Omicron variant.

The university points out that the original variant killed 100% of the mice, meaning their recombinant virus was effectively made “less dangerous”.

If there were any signs that the viruses they created for their experiments were “gaining function,” the scientists would have “immediately” stopped and flagged their research, Lapal Cavallario said.

The research was also conducted in the university’s “BSL-3” laboratory. It’s the second highest level of precautions scientists can take when studying viruses, below those taken when studying the most dangerous pathogens “for which no vaccine or treatment is available”.

“We take our safety and security seriously in how we deal with pathogens, and the virus does not leave the laboratory in which it is studied,” said Ronald Corley, director of NEIDL at Boston University. , in a press release.

The study’s lead author, Mohsan Saeed, and other experts cited other research that has performed similar types of experiments without controversy.

A study co-authored by Food and Drug Administration researchers over the summer also generated “chimeric viruses” with the Omicron and ancestral strains to test in mice.

“In this case, we want to understand the viral genes or factors or mutations that attenuate SARS-CoV-2 so that we can use the knowledge to design live attenuated viral vaccines,” the FDA spokeswoman said. Abby Capobianco, in a statement.

The FDA’s internal research review boards approved the work, Capobianco said. The work was not deemed to be so-called “P3CO” research, which would have triggered a review ahead of experiments that could “create, transfer, or use” enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs).

The Boston University preprint comes amid scrutiny of federal government policies governing ePPP research, which are being reviewed by a NIH Working Group.

“It is concerning that this research – like the research in Wuhan that may have caused the pandemic – has not been identified by the funding agency as possible ePPP research,” wrote Professor Richard Ebright of Rutgers University. . on Twitter.

Ebright and others also disputed the university’s assertion that the research was not a “gain-of-function” experiment.

“First, they are unmistakably gain-of-function experiments. As many have noted, this is a very broad term encompassing many harmless experiments and some potentially dangerous experiments,” said Marc Lipsitch, epidemiologist at the ‘Harvard University and key official of the Centers for Disease. Control and Prevention forecast armsaid Wednesday on Twitter.

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