Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield penned an opinion editorial this week calling for a global moratorium on gain-of-function research.
In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Redfield and Dr. Marc Siegel of NYU Langone Health argued that until lawmakers can conduct a “comprehensive bipartisan investigation into the origin of Covid-19,” every lab around the world needs to pause its gain-of-function research “while authorities develop a clear and careful policy to help prevent the next pandemic.”
Redfield noted that COVID-19 has the properties that “allow its spike protein to change its orientation and dock more easily with a human cell” and until authorities can verify what role the Wuhan lab played in the virus’s spread, investigation must continue.
Gain-of-function research involves scientists extracting viruses from the wild and engineering them to infect humans in order to study potential therapeutics including vaccines. In 2012, Dr. Anthony Fauci defended gain-of-function research, despite acknowledging the risk of triggering a pandemic.
“This hypothesis bears investigation, especially since no new information has emerged in the past 18 months to support the natural-origin theory. Meantime, a growing body of circumstantial evidence supports the lab-leak theory, including information reported by the U.S. State Department that employees of the Wuhan lab were becoming sick with Covid-like symptoms in the fall of 2019,” Redfield noted.
Redfield maintains that “the story of SARS-Cov-2 started long before January 2020” and that it was “most likely uncontained in a laboratory where it was being worked on, and that it escaped unintentionally.”
There were hallmarks of scientific arrogance and failures in the containment system. China’s CDC initially appeared to be out of the loop but later became a key messenger, selling the natural-origin and wet-market theory. Another apparent misdirection was several key scientists’ insistence on a narrow definition of ‘gain of function’ research to include remodeling, overt bioengineering, shaping or constructing a virus. As far as we’re concerned, if a virus is taught to or evolves in a lab to infect human tissue more efficiently, that’s gain of function.
To address the effects of the pandemic, Redfield said we must know the origins of the virus, because “it affects how we approach the problem.”
“Physicians on the front lines were ambushed from the beginning as the novel pathogen was spreading through communities asymptomatically and causing an unexpected inflammatory response in blood vessels and major organs. Now variants are emerging rapidly that continue to change the game. All this is in keeping with a virus that more likely jumped from a bat to a lab, not to a rat or a rabbit,” he said.
Last month, the bipartisan House Appropriations Committee voted to ban funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology through designations in the National Institutes of Health funding bill for next year. In addition to pulling dollars from gain-of-function experiments, the ban also extended to nations historically hostile and opposed to the U.S. such as China.