Not Great: Expert Virologist Claims Government Approval Process For Deadly Experiments Is Too Confusing

Malte Mueller via Getty Images
Malte Mueller via Getty Images

Boston University (BU) has been running allegedly improper, deadly experiments as part of an effort to create a new COVID hybrid strain. The story sounds straight out of Wuhan, but it is not. It happened in Boston.

How could this have ever occurred? Well, according to one of the nation’s top virologists, Angela Rasmussen, it might be because the government’s process for getting this kind of research approved by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is too confusing.

Essentially, Rasmussen wants you to believe that getting extremely risky projects approved by the NIAID is about as much of a headache as dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

This week, it was revealed that BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories released a non-peer-reviewed “preprint” claiming that it had created a COVID hybrid out of the original COVID-19 strain and the Omicron variant, resulting in a new strain that supposedly killed 80% the mice tested, according to STAT News.

BU defended its research by saying that it was necessary to prevent future pandemics and noted that the original variant killed 100% of mice in previous studies. BU also claimed it did not use gain-of-function methods and the experiments were not dangerous.

Ronald Corley, the director of the lab, also claimed that the researchers didn’t need to gain approval because this specific study wasn’t funded directly by the NIAID and the National Institutes of Health.

Corley admitted that earlier funding from the NIH laid the groundwork for the project, but thought that because this paper didn’t receive direct support, then the approval process was not needed.

“It is a murky world, but in our view because the funding was not supporting the work that was supported in this paper, that it wasn’t necessary to report it to NIH,” he told STAT.

That defense may not be sufficient.

Critics, such as Richard Ebright, the Board of Governors professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University and laboratory director at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology, said the idea this wasn’t gain-of-function or risky is “demonstrably false and should be deeply embarrassing.”

Indeed, Emily Erbelding, director of NIAID’s division of microbiology and infectious diseases, told STAT that the government was completely unaware this sort of research was being done.

In fact, STAT reported that NIAID only found out about the study through media reports.

“I think we’re going to have conversations over upcoming days,” Erbelding remarked to the press.

Erbelding explained that had BU come forward for approval via the proper channels, then the research would have undergone a different process.

She also added that if BU had sought prior approval, and it met government guidelines to be defined “as enhanced pathogen of pandemic potential, ePPP, we could have put a package forward for review by the committee that’s convened by HHS, the office of the assistant secretary for preparedness and response.”

“That’s what the framework lays out and that’s what we would have done,” she noted.

Yet BU didn’t do that.

Rasmussen, the aforementioned virologist not associated with the study, chalked up the discretion to unclear rules.

“Because so much of the definition of ePPP pertains to ‘reasonable anticipation’ of results in humans (and animal models are not always good proxies of this), it’s very difficult for researchers to say ‘Oh yes, this is ePPP,’” Rasmussen told STAT.

“I’d personally reach out for clarification from NIAID when in doubt, but it’s often not obvious when additional guidance is warranted,” she added. “And because it’s not very transparent, it’s hard to look at other decisions NIAID has made for examples.”

Rasmussen added that she was “very tired of people suggesting that virologists and NIAID are reckless or don’t care about biosafety.”

“The problem isn’t that,” she added. “The problem is that the guidelines and expectations aren’t clear for many experiments and the process isn’t transparent.”

That language adds up with what Corley, the lab’s director, had to say about opaque guidelines.

So in other words, some of our nation’s best and brightest scientists cannot figure out the bureaucratic nightmare for approval.

So very possibly — rather than err on the side of caution — BU simply went ahead and conducted the experiment without proper oversight based on a judgment call.

None of this is very encouraging. The entire story raises more questions than answers.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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