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For The Record  

FTR #1113 and FTR #1114 The Chinese Winter: Weaponized Media, Social Media and the Coronavirus Biowarfare Psy-Op Parts 1 and 2

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 FTR #1113 This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

FTR #1114 This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment. 

Intro­duc­tion: The first pro­gram begins with review of the con­clu­sion of FTR #1112, not­ing the repet­i­tive, drum­roll of arti­cles about the eco­nom­ic effects of the coro­n­avirus on the Chi­nese, U.S. and glob­al econ­o­my, this in the con­text of Steve Ban­non’s links to Guo Wen­gui, J. Kyle Bass and–through Bass–to Tom­my Hicks, Jr. (This was cov­ered at length and in detail in FTR #‘s 1111 and 1112.)

Steve Bannon–one of the lumi­nar­ies of the “Alt-Right,” and a for­mer key Trump aide–is cen­tral­ly involved in the anti-Chi­na effort. Note Ban­non’s role in the “Get Chi­na” move­ment and the man­ner in which Wash­ing­ton is being pos­sessed by this: ” . . . . Fear of Chi­na has spread across the gov­ern­ment, from the White House to Con­gress to fed­er­al agen­cies, where Beijing’s rise is unques­tion­ing­ly viewed as an eco­nom­ic and nation­al secu­ri­ty threat and the defin­ing chal­lenge of the 21st cen­tu­ry. ‘These are two sys­tems that are incom­pat­i­ble,’ Mr. Ban­non said of the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. ‘One side is going to win, and one side is going to lose.’ . . . .”

Next, the pro­gram under­takes a review of cir­cum­stances that sug­gest the pos­si­bil­i­ty of investor activ­i­ty by peo­ple linked to Steve Ban­non, who is at the epi­cen­ter of the anti-Chi­na effort. Ban­non has been the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of the enor­mous wealth of the bril­liant, eccen­tric investor Robert Mer­cer. Mer­cer has used AI-direct­ed invest­ment pro­jec­tion to afford a 70% return for his hedge fund.

We won­der if he might have had fore­knowl­edge of the coro­n­avirus out­break? IF that was the case, this would have enabled him to have made a great deal of mon­ey on the tor­pe­do­ing of the Chi­nese econ­o­my as may well be the case for J. Kyle Bass. On the oth­er side of the coin is Mercer’s/Renaissance Tech­nolo­gies’ enor­mous invest­ment in Gilead Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

IF Gilead­’s remde­sivir does prove to be the “go-to” treat­ment for coro­n­avirus, that firm stands to make a great deal of mon­ey, as would Mercer/Renaissance Tech­nolo­gies. NB: The infor­ma­tion from Dr. Mer­co­la’s post should be fac­tored in to the infor­ma­tion about invest­ing and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of short-sell­ing and/or oth­er types of maneu­ver­ing to prof­it from this cri­sis. Equi­ty mar­kets are very respon­sive to sug­ges­tion, accu­rate or fala­cious. We note that the hys­te­ria allud­ed to in the post by Dr. Mer­co­la may well con­tribute to the steep decline in mar­kets.

Chi­na, of course, has shut down much of its infra­struc­ture to com­bat the virus. That is con­tribut­ing, obvi­ous­ly. To what extent they, too, are respond­ing to hys­te­ria is an open ques­tion. We also won­der if they know some­thing we don’t. Media have fea­tured pic­tures of Chi­nese per­son­nel in pro­tec­tive cloth­ing fumi­gat­ing pub­lic facil­i­ties. We won­der if they are pro­tect­ing against rodents or oth­er ani­mals spread­ing the virus. Note the ref­er­ence in the post by Dr. Mer­co­la.

Chi­na has begun test­ing of Gilead­’s remde­sivir. IF, for the sake of argu­ment, Gilead­’s remde­sivir becomes the “go-to” treat­ment for the coro­n­avirus, Gilead–and Mercer–will make a great deal of mon­ey. Chi­na is a huge mar­ket and the drug will find mar­kets else­where, as well. Note that a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment research facil­i­ty has applied for a patent on the drug.

We find it curi­ous that Amer­i­can media out­lets have remained silent on such a promis­ing ther­a­peu­tic reg­i­men. Reuters report­ed it, as did Agence France Presse. These are major wire ser­vices. Why not Amer­i­can media out­lets?

Indica­tive of the “Chick­en Lit­tle journalism”–weaponzed jour­nal­ism– that char­ac­ter­izes the U.S. news media is the lack of cov­er­age of the Amer­i­can flu epi­dem­ic of 2017–2018. Con­trast the sta­tis­tics about the 2017–2018 flu epi­dem­ic in this coun­try with the sta­tis­tics about coro­n­avirus. In this coun­try, 45 mil­lion caught the flu. Accord­ing to the CDC, 80,000 of them died. 

Next, we read in full an Op-Ed col­umn by Rosie Spinks–a rare island of bal­ance and san­i­ty in The New York Times’ cov­er­age of this event. In addi­tion to not­ing the effects of the coro­n­avirus on the eco­nom­ics of the trav­el indus­try, Rosie Spinks notes the dra­con­ian reac­tion of the U.S. State Depart­ment. Ms. Spinks tales stock of the rel­a­tive­ly mild nature of the virus. ” . . . . Numer­ous experts have said that the major­i­ty of peo­ple who con­tract coro­n­avirus will expe­ri­ence it as a res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion they will ful­ly recov­er from. But the extreme reac­tions — the can­cel­ing of flights, clos­ing of bor­ders and lev­el-four trav­el warn­ings — seem more appro­pri­ate for some­thing much worse. . . .”

Because it screens points of entry for MERS coro­n­avirus infec­tion because of its cit­i­zens who make the Haj pil­grim­age to Mec­ca, Indone­sia has no record­ed cas­es. In the col­umn cit­ed above, Ms. Spinks not­ed the effec­tive­ness of the kind of pro­phy­lac­tic screen­ing mea­sures tak­en by Indone­sia: ” . . . . Mea­sures like screen­ing at air­ports, quar­an­ti­ning cruise ships or flights with con­firmed cas­es and iso­lat­ing com­mu­ni­ties at the cen­ter of an out­break can be effec­tive, said Erin Sor­rell, an assis­tant research pro­fes­sor at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty who stud­ies emerg­ing infec­tious dis­eases. . . .”

The out­break has occurred in the con­text of what we have called a “Full Court Press” against Chi­na.

Head­ed by “ex” CIA offi­cer William Barr, the Jus­tice Depart­ment has charged Chi­nese per­son­nel with hav­ing hacked the Equifax cred­it report­ing agen­cies. The Chi­nese have denied this. It will be inter­est­ing to see if the U.S. deploys cyber-weapon­ry on Chi­nese com­put­er and inter­net sys­tems, as it has in Rus­sia. In turn, it will be inter­est­ing to see if the “Full Court Press” strat­e­gy encom­pass­es the sab­o­tag­ing of Chi­nese nuclear pow­er plants, Project HAARP envi­ron­men­tal mod­i­fi­ca­tion war­fare or oth­er dra­con­ian mea­sures.

The CIA’s hack­ing tools are specif­i­cal­ly craft­ed to mask CIA author­ship of the attacks. Most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, for our the pur­pos­es of the present dis­cus­sion, is the fact that the Agen­cy’s hack­ing tools are engi­neered in such a way as to per­mit the authors of the event to rep­re­sent them­selves as Chi­nese. ” . . . . These tools could make it more dif­fi­cult for anti-virus com­pa­nies and foren­sic inves­ti­ga­tors to attribute hacks to the CIA. Could this call the source of pre­vi­ous hacks into ques­tion? It appears that yes, this might be used to dis­guise the CIA’s own hacks to appear as if they were Russ­ian, Chi­nese, or from spe­cif­ic oth­er coun­tries. . . . This might allow a mal­ware cre­ator to not only look like they were speak­ing in Russ­ian or Chi­nese, rather than in Eng­lish, but to also look like they tried to hide that they were not speak­ing Eng­lish . . . .”

Piv­ot­ing to what Mr. Emory has termed the “weaponized media cov­er­age” of the coro­n­avirus out­break, we note The New York Times’ stun­ning­ly slant­ed cov­er­age of the 2016 cam­paign.

Before dis­cussing Allen Dulles and his rela­tion­ship to The New York Times, we set forth events illus­trat­ing the fun­da­men­tal place of Sul­li­van & Cromwell in the devel­op­ment of Amer­i­can Big Mon­ey. Both Allen Dulles and John Fos­ter Dulles worked for Sul­li­van & Cromwell.

A now famous arti­cle by Carl Bern­stein (of Water­gate fame) focus­es on CIA pres­ence in major U.S. media. We note, here, the deep his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship between Allen Dulles and The New York Times’s Arthur Hays Sulzberg­er. This, again, by way of back­ground to the weaponized cov­er­age of the coro­n­avirus out­break.

In in his 1985 vol­ume Amer­i­can Swasti­ka, the late author Charles High­am pro­vides us with insight into the Chris­t­ian West con­cept, reveal­ing the extent to which these SS/OSS nego­ti­a­tions set the tem­plate for the post-World War II world, as well as the degree of res­o­nance that key Amer­i­cans, such as Allen Dulles, had with Nazi ide­ol­o­gy, anti-Semi­tism in par­tic­u­lar. Weigh­ing the long, pro­found rela­tion­ship between Dulles and The Times, this is pre­sent­ed as some­thing of a “nav­i­ga­tion­al aid” to analy­sis of the weaponized cov­er­age of the virus.

In the con­text of Allen Dulles’s ori­en­ta­tion and his rela­tion­ship with The New York Times, we present a look at The New York Times’ use of a Third Reich alum­nus named Paul Hof­mann as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent, serv­ing as chief of The Times’ Rome bureau, and cov­er­ing the Gray Lady’s cov­er­age of the CIA’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the over­throw of Patrice Lumum­ba.

The pro­gram con­cludes with an item pre­sent­ed in our land­mark series of inter­views with the bril­liant Jim DiEu­ge­nio about Des­tiny Betrayed.

Noth­ing illus­trates this coun­try’s media and their will­ing­ness to dis­tort infor­ma­tion than the NBC tele­vi­sion broad­cast arranged by Wal­ter Sheri­dan.  Sheri­dan is a career intel­li­gence offi­cer, with rela­tion­ship with the Office of Naval Intel­li­gence, the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.

Exem­pli­fy­ing Sheri­dan’s method­ol­o­gy was the treat­ment met­ed out to Fred Lee­mans, who was the cli­mac­tic per­son inter­viewed by Sheri­dan in his spe­cial. Note the open intim­i­da­tion of Lee­mans and his fam­i­ly, threat­en­ing them if they did not per­jure them­selves, betray Gar­ri­son, and coop­er­ate with both Sheri­dan and Clay Shaw’s coun­sel! 

1. The first pro­gram begins with review of the con­clu­sion of FTR #1112, not­ing the repet­i­tive, drum­roll of arti­cles about the eco­nom­ic effects of the coro­n­avirus on the Chi­nese, U.S. and glob­al econ­o­my, this in the con­text of Steve Ban­non’s links to Guo Wen­gui, J. Kyle Bass and–through Bass–to Tom­my Hicks, Jr. (This was cov­ered at length and in detail in FTR #‘s 1111 and 1112.)

“Who Says Vis­it­ing Chi­na Isn’t Safe?” by Rosie Spinks; The New York Times; 2/7/2020; p. A29 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

. . . . The coro­n­avirus out­break seems defined by two oppos­ing forces: the aston­ish­ing effi­cien­cy  with which the trav­el indus­try con­nects the world and a polit­i­cal moment dom­i­nat­ed by xeno­pho­bic rhetoric and the build­ing of walls. . . .

. . . . The Unit­ed States State Depart­ment nev­er­the­less is deny­ing entry to for­eign­ers who have recent­ly been to Chi­na, and is screen­ing Amer­i­cans who arrive home from Chi­na as well as ask­ing them to self quar­an­tine for 14 days. It has told Amer­i­cans not to vis­it the coun­try at all. British Air­ways, Lufthansa and all three major Amer­i­can car­ri­ers have halt­ed all flights to Chi­na, while the cruise line Roy­al Caribbean is deny­ing board­ing to any per­son who has trav­eled to, from or through Chi­na or Hong Kong in the past 15 days. . . .

. . . . But what has moti­vat­ed the response from gov­ern­ments? It does­n’t appear to be evi­dence. . . .

. . . . Coro­n­avirus is dif­fer­ent from oth­er tourism dis­rup­tions in a sig­nif­i­cant way: The poten­tial loss of tourism rev­enue will hurt not only Chi­na but also oth­er coun­tries. In the decade and a half since the SARS cri­sis, the num­ber of Chi­nese trav­el­ers has soared, with Chi­na sur­pass­ing oth­er nations in its vol­ume of out­bound trav­el­ers start­ing in 2012. In 2017, the Chi­nese made more than 143 mil­lion trips abroad; my col­leagues at Skift Research pre­dict that in 2029, that fig­ure will be more than 286 mil­lion. Lux­u­ry retail­ers all over the world rely on Chi­nese trav­el­ers, and des­ti­na­tions devel­op sophis­ti­cat­ed mar­ket­ing strate­gies to cater to them. . . .

. . . . With the rhetoric sur­round­ing coro­n­avirus, how­ev­er, how­ev­er, it appears the aston­ish­ing growth of the Chi­nese trav­el mar­ket in the last 15 years did lit­tle to rid the indus­try of the impulse to treat Chi­nese trav­el­ers as “oth­ers” in the face of doubt and uncer­tain­ty. . . .

“Declar­ing Health Emer­gency, U.S. Restricts Trav­el from Chi­na” by Michael Cork­ery and Annie Karni; The New York Times; 2/1/2020; p. A1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

. . . . The trav­el restric­tions and the air­line’s announce­ments showed how rapid­ly con­cerns about the virus have esca­lat­ed into a con­test of the glob­al econ­o­my, for which there is no prece­dent. Three weeks after the first virus-relat­ed death was report­ed, Chi­na has found itself cut off from its largest trad­ing part­ner, the Unit­ed States, and many oth­er nations. . . .

“Gov­ern­ments Expand Restric­tions on Trav­el to Chi­na as Cas­es Spike” by Paul Mozur; The New York Times; 1/29/2020; p. A6 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

. . . . With Chi­na’s Lunar New Year hol­i­day near­ing its end, com­pa­nies ordered work­ers to stay home and avoid trav­el. The eco­nom­ic impact of such mea­sures point­ed to a deep­er polit­i­cal cri­sis, with many peo­ple accus­ing the Chi­nese author­i­ties online of fail­ing to act quick­ly to con­tain the virus, even as the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to strug­gle to con­tain its spread. . . .

. . . . Busi­ness­es that oper­ate in Chi­na have issued warn­ings of their own. . . .

. . . . Investors in Asia were gripped on tues­day­with fear about the health of the glob­al econ­o­my for a sec­ond day, with a wide­spread sell-off con­tin­u­ing con­in­u­ing in the mar­kets. Investos dumped stocks in com­pa­nies thought to be most vul­ner­a­ble to the effects of the virus.

 “The coro­na virus is the No. 1 threat to finan­cial mar­kets cur­rent­ly as glob­al investors are becom­ing jit­tery on the uncer­tain­ty.” said Nigel Green, founder of an invest­ment com­pa­ny, the DeVere group . . .

“Trade Net­works Face New Men­ace in a Coro­n­avirus” Chi­na in Cross Hairs; by Peter S. Good­man; The New York Times; 2/3/2020; p. A1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “Chi­na Reels From Virus, and Mar­kets Are on Edge” by Alexan­dra Steven­son; The New York Times; 1/24/2020; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

“Out­break Rat­tles Mar­kets, Spurring Down­turn Fears” by Matt Phillips; The New York Times; 1/28/2020; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 On same page, rel­e­vant to psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare and online activ­i­ty: “On Chi­nese Social Media, Anger over Virus” by Ray­mond Zhong; The New York Times; 1/28/2020; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “OPEC Scram­bles to React as Virus Imper­ils Demand” by Stan­ley Reed; The New York Times; 2/4/2020; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “Virus Threat­ens an Oil Indus­try That’s Already Ail­ing” by Clif­ford Krauss With a Decline in Chi­na’s Demand send­ing Crude Prices Lowe, Cut­backs by Amer­i­can Com­pa­nies May Be Com­ing; For Now, Dri­vers are ben­e­fit­ing; The New York Times; 2/5/2020; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “Africa, With Grow­ing Ties to Chi­na, Is Espe­cial­ly Vul­ner­a­ble” by Simon Marks and Latif Dahir; The New York Times; 2/7/2020; p. A10 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “U.S. Plans Trade Talks With Kenya to Counter Chi­na’s Influ­ence in Africa” by Ana Swan­son; The New York Times; 2/7/2020; p. B4 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “Chi­na’s Com­mand of 5G Is A ‘Dan­ger,’ Barr Says” by Katie Ben­ner; The New York Times; 2/7/2020; p. B7 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

 “Virus Fuels Anti-Chi­nese Sen­ti­ment Over­seas” by Motoko Rich; The New York Times; 1/31/2020; p. A1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

. . . . In Japan, the hash­tag #Chi­nese­Don’t­Come­To­Japan has been trend­ing on twit­ter. In Sin­ga­pore, tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents have signed a peti­tion call­ing for the gov­ern­ment to ban Chi­nese from enter­ing the coun­try.

In Hong Kong, South Korea and Viet­nam, busi­ness­es have post­ed signs say­ing that main­land Chi­nese cus­tomers are not wel­come. In France, a front-page head­line in a region­al news­pa­per warned of a “Yel­low Alert.” And in a sub­urb of Toron­to, par­ents demand­ed that a school dis­trict keep chil­dren of a fam­i­ly that had recent­ly returned from Chi­na out of class­es for 17 days. . . .

 . . . . At a time when Chi­na’s rise as a glob­al eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary pow­er has unset­tled its neigh­bors in Asia as well as its rivals in the West, the coro­n­avirus is feed­ing into latent big­otry against the peo­ple of main­land Chi­na . . .

“Virus Puts a Frac­tured Hong Kong on Edge” by Austin Ramzy; The New York Times; 1/29/2020; p. A1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

The two Hong Kong pro­test­ers were dressed head to toe in black, their faces coverd in masks. They smashed their Molo­tov cock­tails into the lob­by of a pub­lic hous­ing estate, and flames and smoke began  spew­ing out. . . .

“Virus Putting E.U. At Risk of Reces­sion” by Jack Ewing; The New York Times; 2/12/2020; p. B1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

“Com­modi­ties Tum­ble as Epi­dem­ic Snarls Sup­ply Chains” by Matt Phillips; The New York Times; 2/12/2020; p. B3 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

2. Steve Bannon–one of the lumi­nar­ies of the “Alt-Right,” and a for­mer key Trump aide is cen­tral­ly involved in the anti-Chi­na effort. Note Ban­non’s role in the “Get Chi­na” move­ment and the man­ner in which Wash­ing­ton is being pos­sessed by this: ” . . . . Fear of Chi­na has spread across the gov­ern­ment, from the White House to Con­gress to fed­er­al agen­cies, where Beijing’s rise is unques­tion­ing­ly viewed as an eco­nom­ic and nation­al secu­ri­ty threat and the defin­ing chal­lenge of the 21st cen­tu­ry. ‘These are two sys­tems that are incom­pat­i­ble,’ Mr. Ban­non said of the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. ‘One side is going to win, and one side is going to lose.’ . . . .”

“A New Red Scare Is Reshap­ing Wash­ing­ton” by Ana Swan­son; The New York Times; 7/20/2019.

In a ball­room across from the Capi­tol build­ing, an unlike­ly group of mil­i­tary hawks, pop­ulist cru­saders, Chi­nese Mus­lim free­dom fight­ers [Uighurs–D.E.] and fol­low­ers of the Falun Gong has been meet­ing to warn any­one who will lis­ten that Chi­na pos­es an exis­ten­tial threat to the Unit­ed States that will not end until the Com­mu­nist Par­ty is over­thrown.

If the warn­ings sound straight out of the Cold War, they are. The Com­mit­tee on the Present Dan­ger, a long-defunct group that cam­paigned against the dan­gers of the Sovi­et Union in the 1970s and 1980s, has recent­ly been revived with the help of Stephen K. Ban­non, the president’s for­mer chief strate­gist, to warn against the dan­gers of Chi­na.

Once dis­missed as xeno­phobes and fringe ele­ments, the group’s mem­bers are find­ing their views increas­ing­ly embraced in Pres­i­dent Trump’s Wash­ing­ton, where skep­ti­cism and mis­trust of Chi­na have tak­en hold. Fear of Chi­na has spread across the gov­ern­ment, from the White House to Con­gress to fed­er­al agen­cies, where Beijing’s rise is unques­tion­ing­ly viewed as an eco­nom­ic and nation­al secu­ri­ty threat and the defin­ing chal­lenge of the 21st cen­tu­ry.

“These are two sys­tems that are incom­pat­i­ble,” Mr. Ban­non said of the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. “One side is going to win, and one side is going to lose.” . . . .

3. Next, the pro­gram under­takes a review of cir­cum­stances that sug­gest the pos­si­bil­i­ty of investor activ­i­ty by peo­ple linked to Steve Ban­non, who is at the epi­cen­ter of the anti-Chi­na effort. Ban­non has been the ben­e­fi­cia­ry of the enor­mous wealth of the bril­liant, eccen­tric investor Robert Mer­cer. Mer­cer has used AI-direct­ed invest­ment pro­jec­tion to afford a 70% return for his hedge fund.

We won­der if he might have had fore­knowl­edge of the coro­n­avirus out­break? IF that was the case, this would have enabled him to have made a great deal of mon­ey on the tor­pe­do­ing of the Chi­nese econ­o­my as may well be the case for J. Kyle Bass. On the oth­er side of the coin is Mercer’s/Renaissance Tech­nolo­gies’ enor­mous invest­ment in Gilead Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

IF Gilead­’s remde­sivir does prove to be the “go-to” treat­ment for coro­n­avirus, that firm stands to make a great deal of mon­ey, as would Mercer/Renaissance Tech­nolo­gies. NB: The infor­ma­tion from Dr. Mer­co­la’s post should be fac­tored in to the infor­ma­tion about invest­ing and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of short-sell­ing and/or oth­er types of maneu­ver­ing to prof­it from this cri­sis. Equi­ty mar­kets are very respon­sive to sug­ges­tion, accu­rate or fala­cious. We note that the hys­te­ria allud­ed to in the post by Dr. Mer­co­la may well con­tribute to the steep decline in mar­kets.

Chi­na, of course, has shut down much of its infra­struc­ture to com­bat the virus. That is con­tribut­ing, obvi­ous­ly. To what extent they, too, are respond­ing to hys­te­ria is an open ques­tion. We also won­der if they know some­thing we don’t. Media have fea­tured pic­tures of Chi­nese per­son­nel in pro­tec­tive cloth­ing fumi­gat­ing pub­lic facil­i­ties. We won­der if they are pro­tect­ing against rodents or oth­er ani­mals spread­ing the virus. Note the ref­er­ence in the post by Dr. Mer­co­la:

It Came From Some­thing Awful: How a Tox­ic Troll Army Acci­den­tal­ly Memed Don­ald Trump into Office by Dale Beran; All Points Books [HC]; Copy­right 2019 by Dale Beran; ISBN 978–1‑250–18974‑5; p. 173.

 . . . . In the 1970s, Mer­cer pro­grammed machine-learn­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gences to process vast sets of data and so pre­dict what was sup­posed to be the cen­tral mys­tery of cap­i­tal­ism, the move­ment of mar­kets. And, well, they did–and still do. The hedge fund for which Mer­cer worked, Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies, has earned an aver­age of 70 per­cent each year, mak­ing Mer­cer one of the rich­est men on the plan­et. . . .

4. Chi­na has begun test­ing of Gilead­’s remde­sivir. IF, for the sake of argu­ment, Gilead­’s remde­sivir becomes the “go-to” treat­ment for the coro­n­avirus, Gilead–and Mercer–will make a great deal of mon­ey. Chi­na is a huge mar­ket and the drug will find mar­kets else­where, as well.

“Chi­na Begins Test­ing an Antivi­ral Drug in Coro­n­avirus Patients” by Denise Grady; The New York Times; 2/6/2020.

. . . . On Thurs­day, Chi­na began enrolling patients in a clin­i­cal tri­al of remde­sivir, an antivi­ral med­i­cine made by Gilead, the Amer­i­can phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal giant. The drug has to be giv­en intra­venous­ly, is exper­i­men­tal and not yet approved for any use, and has not been stud­ied in patients with any coro­n­avirus dis­ease. But stud­ies of infect­ed mice and mon­keys have sug­gest­ed that remde­sivir can fight coro­n­avirus­es. . . . . . . . Doc­tors in Wash­ing­ton State gave remde­sivir to the first coro­n­avirus patient in the Unit­ed States last week after his con­di­tion wors­ened and pneu­mo­nia devel­oped when he’d been in the hos­pi­tal for a week. His symp­toms improved the next day. . . .

5. A Chi­nese gov­ern­ment research facil­i­ty has applied for a patent on the drug.

“Chi­na Lab Seeks Patent on Use of Gilead­’s Coro­n­avirus Treat­ment” [Reuters]; The New York Times; 2/5/2020.

A state-run Chi­nese research insti­tute has applied for a patent on the use of Gilead Sci­ences’ exper­i­men­tal U.S. antivi­ral drug, which sci­en­tists think could pro­vide treat­ment for the coro­n­avirus that has killed hun­dreds and infect­ed thou­sands.
The Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy of the Chi­na Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, based in the city where the out­break is believed to have orig­i­nat­ed, said in a state­ment on Tues­day it applied to patent the use of Remde­sivir, an antivi­ral drug devel­oped by Gilead, to treat the virus. . . .
. . . . “Even if the Wuhan Insti­tute’s appli­ca­tion gets autho­rized, the role is very lim­it­ed because Gilead still owns the fun­da­men­tal patent of the drug,” said Zhao Youbin, a Shang­hai-based intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty coun­sel at Pur­plevine IP Ser­vice Co.

6a. Mer­cer’s Renais­sance  Tech­nol­o­gy has a huge posi­tion in Gilead stock.

“Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Front Groups Attack Uni­ver­sal Health­care Bill in New York State”  by Rob Gal­braith; Lit­tle­sis; 5/24/2017.

. . . . Renais­sance Technology’s top 15 hold­ings also include 16.4 mil­lion shares of the med­ical device man­u­fac­tur­er Novo-Nordisk val­ued at $563 mil­lion, 7.7 mil­lion shares of Gilead Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals val­ued at $523 mil­lion, and 2.4 mil­lion shares of Amgen val­ued at $396 mil­lion. An eco­nom­ic analy­sis of the New York Health Act esti­mat­ed that the plan would result in $16 bil­lion in reduced spend­ing on phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and med­ical devices in New York State by nego­ti­at­ing low­er prices. . . .

6b. We find it curi­ous that Amer­i­can media out­lets have remained silent on such a promis­ing ther­a­peu­tic reg­i­men. Reuters report­ed it, as did Agence France Presse. These are major wire ser­vices. Why not Amer­i­can media out­lets? ” . . . . A Chi­nese woman infect­ed with the new coro­n­avirus showed a dra­mat­ic improve­ment after she was treat­ed with a cock­tail of anti-virals used to treat flu and HIV, Thai­land’s health min­istry said Sun­day. The 71-year-old patient test­ed neg­a­tive for the virus 48 hours after Thai doc­tors admin­is­tered the com­bi­na­tion, doc­tor Kriengsak Atti­porn­wanich said dur­ing the min­istry’s dai­ly press brief­ing. ‘The lab result of pos­i­tive on the coro­n­avirus turned neg­a­tive in 48 hours,’ Kriengsak said. . . .

“The doc­tors com­bined the anti-flu drug oseltamivir with lopinavir and riton­avir, anti-virals used to treat HIV, Kriengsak said, adding the min­istry was await­ing research results to prove the find­ings. . . . Thai­land so far has detect­ed 19 con­firmed cas­es of the virus believed to have orig­i­nat­ed in the cen­tral Chi­nese city of Wuhan, which is under lock­down. . . .

”  . . . .That is the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of cas­es out­side of Chi­na, with Japan record­ing 20. So far, eight patients in Thai­land have recov­ered and returned home, while 11 remain in the hos­pi­tal. In a video released Sun­day, Thai health min­is­ter Anutin Charn­vi­rakul vis­it­ed a patient from Wuhan who had recov­ered from the coro­n­avirus, chat­ting with her ami­ca­bly in Man­darin as she thanked him and the med­ical staff. . . .”

“Thai­land ‘Cures’ Coro­n­avirus with anti-HIV Drug Cock­tail in 48 Hours;” Dai­ly Sab­bah [Agence France Presse]; 2/2/2020.

A Chi­nese woman infect­ed with the new coro­n­avirus showed a dra­mat­ic improve­ment after she was treat­ed with a cock­tail of anti-virals used to treat flu and HIV, Thai­land’s health min­istry said Sun­day.

The 71-year-old patient test­ed neg­a­tive for the virus 48 hours after Thai doc­tors admin­is­tered the com­bi­na­tion, doc­tor Kriengsak Atti­porn­wanich said dur­ing the min­istry’s dai­ly press brief­ing.

“The lab result of pos­i­tive on the coro­n­avirus turned neg­a­tive in 48 hours,” Kriengsak said.

“From being exhaust­ed before, she could sit up in bed 12 hours lat­er.”

The doc­tors com­bined the anti-flu drug oseltamivir with lopinavir and riton­avir, anti-virals used to treat HIV, Kriengsak said, adding the min­istry was await­ing research results to prove the find­ings.

The news comes as the new virus claimed its first life out­side Chi­na – a 44-year-old Chi­nese man who died in the Philip­pines – while the death toll in Chi­na has soared above 300.

Thai­land so far has detect­ed 19 con­firmed cas­es of the virus believed to have orig­i­nat­ed in the cen­tral Chi­nese city of Wuhan, which is under lock­down.

That is the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of cas­es out­side of Chi­na, with Japan record­ing 20.

So far, eight patients in Thai­land have recov­ered and returned home, while 11 remain in the hos­pi­tal.

In a video released Sun­day, Thai health min­is­ter Anutin Charn­vi­rakul vis­it­ed a patient from Wuhan who had recov­ered from the coro­n­avirus, chat­ting with her ami­ca­bly in Man­darin as she thanked him and the med­ical staff.

Thai author­i­ties are try­ing to bal­ance the screen­ing of inbound Chi­nese vis­i­tors with the eco­nom­ic needs of its tourist sec­tor, which is heav­i­ly reliant on arrivals from the main­land.

Mes­sages of sup­port say­ing “Our hearts to Wuhan” in Eng­lish, Chi­nese and Thai were plas­tered on a Bangkok mall pop­u­lar with tourists.

The bulk of con­firmed cas­es have been Chi­nese vis­i­tors to Thai­land, but on Thurs­day the king­dom record­ed its first human-to-human trans­mis­sion when a Thai taxi dri­ver was diag­nosed with the dis­ease.

The taxi dri­ver had not trav­eled to Chi­na but may have had con­tact with tourists.

Thai­land’s gov­ern­ment is also bat­tling pub­lic crit­i­cism that it has been slow to evac­u­ate scores of its cit­i­zens from Hubei province, at the cen­ter of the out­break.

Anutin said the evac­u­a­tion would hap­pen Tues­day, and the returnees would be quar­an­tined for 14 days. 

7. Con­trast the sta­tis­tics about the 2017–2018 flu epi­dem­ic in this coun­try with the sta­tis­tics about coro­n­avirus. In this coun­try, 45 mil­lion caught the flu. Accord­ing to the CDC, 80,000 of them died. 

“CDC: 80,000 Peo­ple Died of Flue Last Win­ter, High­est Death Toll in 40 Years;” [AP]; STAT News; 9/26/2018.

An esti­mat­ed 80,000 Amer­i­cans died of flu and its com­pli­ca­tions last win­ter — the disease’s high­est death toll in at least four decades.

The direc­tor of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, Dr. Robert Red­field, revealed the total in an inter­view Tues­day night with The Asso­ci­at­ed Press. . . .

8. In addi­tion to not­ing the effects of the coro­n­avirus on the eco­nom­ics of the trav­el indus­try, Rosie Spinks notes the dra­con­ian reac­tion of the U.S. State Depart­ment. Ms. Spinks tales stock of the rel­a­tive­ly mild nature of the virus. ” . . . . Numer­ous experts have said that the major­i­ty of peo­ple who con­tract coro­n­avirus will expe­ri­ence it as a res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion they will ful­ly recov­er from. But the extreme reac­tions — the can­cel­ing of flights, clos­ing of bor­ders and lev­el-four trav­el warn­ings — seem more appro­pri­ate for some­thing much worse. . . .”

“Who Says Vis­it­ing Chi­na Isn’t Safe?” by Rosie Spinks; The New York Times; 2/7/2020; p. A29 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

The coro­n­avirus out­break seems defined by two oppos­ing forces: the aston­ish­ing effi­cien­cy with which the trav­el indus­try con­nects the world and a polit­i­cal moment dom­i­nat­ed by xeno­pho­bic rhetoric and the build­ing of walls.

Res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tions, how­ev­er, know no bor­ders. The virus has spread regard­less of extreme mea­sures tak­en by gov­ern­ments around the world, which include the can­cel­la­tion of flights, the shut­ting down of bor­ders and the issuance of trav­el advi­sories usu­al­ly reserved for con­flict zones.

Time and time again, des­ti­na­tions per­ceived as “West­ern” ben­e­fit from a kind of cul­tur­al famil­iar­i­ty and pre­sump­tion of safe­ty that so-called for­eign or exot­ic places do not. When we, as trav­el­ers, decide what places are too unsafe to trav­el, those deci­sions are deter­mined not just by actu­al con­di­tions on the ground but also by per­cep­tions shaped by the media, the trav­el indus­try and the for­eign offices of gov­ern­ments. Whether trav­el­ers real­ize it or not, that is sub­tly informed by the same pow­er struc­tures that under­lie much unfair­ness in the world.

Valid argu­ments may exist for shut­ting down the world to trav­el­ers orig­i­nat­ing in Chi­na — and shut­ting down Chi­na to the world — as a rea­son­able pub­lic health response. But the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion explic­it­ly did not advise that any restric­tion of trade or trav­el was nec­es­sary when it declared a Pub­lic Health Emer­gency of Inter­na­tion­al Con­cern last week, and it still doesn’t. Instead, it has called for exit screen­ing in inter­na­tion­al air­ports and domes­tic hubs in Chi­na.

The Unit­ed States State Depart­ment is deny­ing entry to for­eign nation­als who have recent­ly been to Chi­na, is screen­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zens who arrive home from Chi­na as well as ask­ing them to self-quar­an­tine for 14 days. It has told Amer­i­can cit­i­zens not to vis­it the coun­try at all. Major air­lines includ­ing British Air­ways, Lufthansa and all three major Amer­i­can car­ri­ers have halt­ed all flights to Chi­na, while the cruise line Roy­al Caribbean is deny­ing board­ing to any per­son who has trav­eled to, from or through Chi­na or Hong Kong in the past 15 days. Trav­el com­pa­nies such as those air­lines are moti­vat­ed both by pres­sure from employ­ees and by the falling demand for flights. Fly­ing emp­ty planes to and from Chi­na is, after all, not prof­itable.

But what has moti­vat­ed the response from gov­ern­ments? It doesn’t appear to be evi­dence. Mea­sures like screen­ing at air­ports, quar­an­ti­ning cruise ships or flights with con­firmed cas­es and iso­lat­ing com­mu­ni­ties at the cen­ter of an out­break can be effec­tive, said Erin Sor­rell, an assis­tant research pro­fes­sor at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty who stud­ies emerg­ing infec­tious dis­eases. How­ev­er, she and oth­er experts say the avail­able evi­dence sug­gests that total bor­der shut­downs are not an effec­tive means of con­tain­ment of res­pi­ra­to­ry virus­es. Resources are bet­ter used, she argued, treat­ing sick patients and devel­op­ing vac­cines and oth­er coun­ter­mea­sures.

Sad­ly, one doesn’t have to look far for evi­dence of these top-down deci­sions mor­ph­ing into out­right racism with­in the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, a trend that has a long his­to­ry in the nar­ra­tive of out­breaks such as this one.

Coro­n­avirus shares some­thing in com­mon with oth­er kinds of civ­il dis­rup­tion, nat­ur­al dis­as­ters or emer­gen­cies that affect local­ized trav­el indus­tries: Its destruc­tive pow­er lies not in the actu­al risk but in the per­cep­tion of that risk. Numer­ous experts have said that the major­i­ty of peo­ple who con­tract coro­n­avirus will expe­ri­ence it as a res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion they will ful­ly recov­er from. But the extreme reac­tions — the can­cel­ing of flights, clos­ing of bor­ders and lev­el-four trav­el warn­ings — seem more appro­pri­ate for some­thing much worse.

There­in lies a famil­iar unfair­ness. When it comes to trav­el, the per­cep­tion of risk is rarely met­ed out objec­tive­ly. Con­sid­er the lev­el-two trav­el warn­ing imposed by the State Depart­ment last month in the wake of the con­tin­u­ing Aus­tralian wild­fires. It advised trav­el­ers to con­sid­er post­pon­ing their trips because of extreme­ly poor air qual­i­ty and the threat of evac­u­a­tion in the month­s­long fires. Just a few days lat­er, it was reduced to lev­el one, report­ed­ly in response to the direct appeal of Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Sim­i­lar­ly, in the 2017–18 flu sea­son, when the Unit­ed States had a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad out­break, the res­pi­ra­to­ry virus result­ed in an esti­mat­ed 61,000 deaths and 45 mil­lion symp­to­matic cas­es — but no trav­el warn­ings.

Coro­n­avirus is dif­fer­ent from oth­er tourism dis­rup­tions in a sig­nif­i­cant way: The poten­tial loss of tourism rev­enue and gross domes­tic prod­uct will hurt not only Chi­na but also oth­er coun­tries. In the decade and a half since the SARS cri­sis, Chi­nese trav­el­ers have become the most pow­er­ful source mar­ket in the world, sur­pass­ing all oth­er nations in its vol­ume of out­bound trav­el­ers in 2012. In 2017, Chi­nese cit­i­zens took more than 143 mil­lion trips abroad; in 2029, Skift Research pre­dicts that fig­ure will be 286 mil­lion. Lux­u­ry retail­ers all over the world rely on Chi­nese trav­el­ers for their con­sis­tent trip spend­ing, and des­ti­na­tions devel­op and tar­get sophis­ti­cat­ed mar­ket­ing strate­gies to cater to them.

The world often thinks of trav­el and tourism as being a col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent indus­tries, oper­at­ing sep­a­rate­ly yet along­side one anoth­er. But in real­i­ty, it’s a web of eco­nom­i­cal­ly inter­con­nect­ed parts. While it is sub­ject to the polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment it oper­ates in, it also has a chance to stand up to the polit­i­cal norms of the day, espe­cial­ly when pol­i­cy goes against best prac­tices rec­om­mend­ed by inter­na­tion­al agen­cies.

With the rhetoric sur­round­ing coro­n­avirus, how­ev­er, it appears the aston­ish­ing growth of the Chi­nese trav­el mar­ket in the past 15 years did lit­tle to rid the indus­try of the impulse to treat Chi­nese trav­el­ers as “oth­ers” in the face of doubt and uncer­tain­ty. Can­cel­ing flights, cruis­es and lock­ing down bor­ders when it’s not advised by inter­na­tion­al agen­cies will be not only an act of eco­nom­ic self-harm but also a wast­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn from the mis­takes of the past.

9. Because it screens points of entry for MERS coro­n­avirus infec­tion because of its cit­i­zens who make the Haj pil­grim­age to Mec­ca, Indone­sia has no record­ed cas­es. In the col­umn above, Ms. Spinks not­ed the effec­tive­ness of the kind of pro­phy­lac­tic screen­ing mea­sures tak­en by Indone­sia: ” . . . . Mea­sures like screen­ing at air­ports, quar­an­ti­ning cruise ships or flights with con­firmed cas­es and iso­lat­ing com­mu­ni­ties at the cen­ter of an out­break can be effec­tive, said Erin Sor­rell, an assis­tant research pro­fes­sor at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty who stud­ies emerg­ing infec­tious dis­eases. . . .”

“Indone­sia Has No Report­ed Coro­n­avirus Cas­es. Is That the Whole Pic­ture?” by Richard C. Pad­dock and Dera Men­ra Sija­bat; The New York Times; 2/11/2020. 

. . . . Health experts have ques­tioned why Indone­sia has not yet report­ed a sin­gle case of nov­el coro­n­avirus, even though offi­cials were slow to halt non­stop flights from Chi­na. Indone­sia receives about 2 mil­lion Chi­nese tourists a year, most of them in Bali. . . .

. . . . “So far, Indone­sia is the only major coun­try in Asia that does not have a coro­na case,” Indonesia’s secu­ri­ty min­is­ter, Moham­mad Mah­fud MD, told reporters on Fri­day. “The coro­n­avirus does not exist in Indone­sia.” . . . .

. . . . Indone­sia is expe­ri­enced at mon­i­tor­ing trav­el­ers for ill­ness, he said, because the coun­try has long been on the look­out for anoth­er dan­ger­ous coro­n­avirus, Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome or MERS. About 1.4 mil­lion Indone­sians go each year on pil­grim­ages to Sau­di Ara­bia, where they can be exposed to MERS, he said, and they are screened on their return.

“We have expe­ri­enced this many times,” he said. “Maybe oth­er coun­tries are not as dili­gent as Indone­sia in deal­ing with this sit­u­a­tion.” . . . .

10. Head­ed by “ex” CIA offi­cer William Barr, the Jus­tice Depart­ment has charged Chi­nese per­son­nel with hav­ing hacked the Equifax cred­it report­ing agen­cies. The Chi­nese have denied this. It will be inter­est­ing to see if the U.S. deploys cyber-weapon­ry on Chi­nese com­put­er and inter­net sys­tems, as it has in Rus­sia. In turn, it will be inter­est­ing to see if the “Full Court Press” strat­e­gy encom­pass­es the sab­o­tag­ing of Chi­nese nuclear pow­er plants, Project HAARP envi­ron­men­tal mod­i­fi­ca­tion war­fare or oth­er dra­con­ian mea­sures.

“Jus­tice Depart­ment Charges 4 Chi­nese in Equifax Hack” by Katie Ben­ner; The New York Times; 2/11/2020; p. A1 [West­ern Edi­tion.]

Four mem­bers of Chi­na’s mil­i­tary were charged on Mon­day with hack­ing into Equifax, one of the nation’s largest cred­it report­ing agen­cies, and steal­ing trade secrets and the per­son­al data of about 145 mil­lion Amer­i­cans in 2017.

The charges under­scored Chi­na’s quest to obtain Amer­i­cans’ data and its will­ing­ness to flout a 2015 agree­ment with the Unit­ed States to refrain from hack­ing and cyber­at­tacks, all in an effort to expand eco­nom­ic pow­er and influ­ence. . . .

11. The CIA’s hack­ing tools are specif­i­cal­ly craft­ed to mask CIA author­ship of the attacks. Most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, for our the pur­pos­es of the present dis­cus­sion, is the fact that the Agen­cy’s hack­ing tools are engi­neered in such a way as to per­mit the authors of the event to rep­re­sent them­selves as Chi­nese. ” . . . . These tools could make it more dif­fi­cult for anti-virus com­pa­nies and foren­sic inves­ti­ga­tors to attribute hacks to the CIA. Could this call the source of pre­vi­ous hacks into ques­tion? It appears that yes, this might be used to dis­guise the CIA’s own hacks to appear as if they were Russ­ian, Chi­nese, or from spe­cif­ic oth­er coun­tries. . . . This might allow a mal­ware cre­ator to not only look like they were speak­ing in Russ­ian or Chi­nese, rather than in Eng­lish, but to also look like they tried to hide that they were not speak­ing Eng­lish . . . .”

“Wik­iLeaks Vault 7 Part 3 Reveals CIA Tool Might Mask Hacks as Russ­ian, Chi­nese, Ara­bic” by Stephanie Dube Dwil­son; Heavy; 4/3/2017.

This morn­ing, Wik­iLeaks released part 3 of its Vault 7 series, called Mar­ble. Mar­ble reveals CIA source code files along with decoy lan­guages that might dis­guise virus­es, tro­jans, and hack­ing attacks. These tools could make it more dif­fi­cult for anti-virus com­pa­nies and foren­sic inves­ti­ga­tors to attribute hacks to the CIA. Could this call the source of pre­vi­ous hacks into ques­tion? It appears that yes, this might be used to dis­guise the CIA’s own hacks to appear as if they were Russ­ian, Chi­nese, or from spe­cif­ic oth­er coun­tries. These tools were in use in 2016, Wik­iLeaks report­ed.

It’s not known exact­ly how this Mar­ble tool was actu­al­ly used. How­ev­er, accord­ing to Wik­iLeaks, the tool could make it more dif­fi­cult for inves­ti­ga­tors and anti-virus com­pa­nies to attribute virus­es and oth­er hack­ing tools to the CIA. Test exam­ples weren’t just in Eng­lish, but also Russ­ian, Chi­nese, Kore­an, Ara­bic, and Far­si. This might allow a mal­ware cre­ator to not only look like they were speak­ing in Russ­ian or Chi­nese, rather than in Eng­lish, but to also look like they tried to hide that they were not speak­ing Eng­lish, accord­ing to Wik­iLeaks. This might also hide fake error mes­sages or be used for oth­er pur­pos­es. . . .

12. Piv­ot­ing to what Mr. Emory has termed the “weaponized media cov­er­age” of the coro­n­avirus out­break, we note The New York Times’ stun­ning­ly slant­ed cov­er­age of the 2016 cam­paign.

“The Times Owes an Apol­o­gy [Let­ter to the Edi­tor];” The New York Times; 10/25/2019 [West­ern Edi­tion]; p. A26.

“But Her E‑mails . . .” (edi­to­r­i­al, Oct. 23) I am dis­ap­point­ed that The Times did not use the oppor­tu­ni­ty to apol­o­gize for its obses­sive cov­er­age of this Hillary Clin­ton non-scan­dal in 2016. Accord­ing to an arti­cle in the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review, “in just six days, The New York Times ran as many cov­er sto­ries about Hillary Clin­ton’s e‑mails as they did about all pol­i­cy issues com­bined in the 69 days lead­ing up to the elec­tion.” Mrs. Clin­ton lost the elec­tion for myr­i­ad rea­sons, but it did not help that The Times’s cov­er­age of this issue rein­forced many vot­ers’ sus­pi­cions that she was untrust­wor­thy. Jef­frey Toobin, chief legal ana­lyst for CNN, apol­o­gized this week for hyp­ing the e‑mail sto­ry dur­ing that cru­cial moment. If The Times wants to regain the trust of its read­ers head­ing into 2020, it should do the same. JEREMY FASSLER, BROOKLYN

13. Before dis­cussing Allen Dulles and his rela­tion­ship to The New York Times, we set forth events illus­trat­ing the fun­da­men­tal place of Sul­li­van & Cromwell in the devel­op­ment of Amer­i­can Big Mon­ey. Both Allen Dulles and John Fos­ter Dulles worked for Sul­li­van & Cromwell.

The Broth­ers: John Fos­ter Dulls, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinz­er; St. Mar­tin Grif­fin [SC]; Copy­right 2013 by Stephen Kinz­er; ISBN 978–1‑250–05312‑1; pp. 18–19.

 . . . . . . . . In 1882, it cre­at­ed Edi­son Gen­er­al Elec­tric. Sev­en years lat­er, with the financier J.P. Mor­gan as its client, it wove twen­ty-one steel­mak­ers into the Nation­al Tube Com­pa­ny and then, in 1891, merged Nation­al Tube with sev­en oth­er com­pa­nies to cre­ate U.S. Steel, cap­i­tal­ized at more than one bil­lion dol­lars, an astound­ing sum at that time. The rail­road mag­nate E.H. Har­ri­man, whom Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt had denounced as a “male­fac­tor of great wealth” and “an ene­my of the Repub­lic,” hired the firm to wage two of his leg­endary proxy wars, one to take over the Illi­nois Cen­tral Rail­road and anoth­er to fend off angry share­hold­ers at Wells Far­go Bank. It won the first with tac­tics that a New York news­pa­per called “one of those ruth­less exer­cis­es of the pow­er of sheer mil­lions,” and the sec­ond with com­plex maneu­vers that, accord­ing to a book about the firm, amount­ed to “deceit, bribery and trick­ery [that] was all legal.”

Soon after­ward, work­ing on behalf of French investors who were fac­ing ruin after their effort to build a canal across Pana­ma col­lapsed, Sul­li­van & Cromwell achieved a unique tri­umph in glob­al pol­i­tics. Through a mas­ter­ful lob­by­ing cam­paign, its end­less­ly resource­ful man­ag­ing part­ner, William Nel­son Cromwell, per­suad­ed the Unit­ed States Con­gress to reverse its deci­sion to build a canal across Nicaragua and to pay his French clients $40 mil­lion for their land in Pana­ma instead. Then he helped engi­neer a rev­o­lu­tion that pulled the province of Pana­ma away from Colom­bia and estab­lished it as an inde­pen­dent coun­try, led by a clique will­ing to show its grat­i­tude by allow­ing con­struc­tion of a canal on terms favor­able to the Unit­ed States. One news­pa­per called him “the man whose mas­ter­ful mind, whet­ted on the grind­stone of cor­po­rate cun­ning, con­ceived and car­ried out the rape of the Isth­mus.” . . .

14. A now famous arti­cle by Carl Bern­stein (of Water­gate fame) focus­es on CIA pres­ence in major U.S. media. We note, here, the deep his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal rela­tion­ship between Allen Dulles and The New York Times’s Arthur Hays Sulzberg­er. This, again, by way of back­ground to the weaponized cov­er­age of the coro­n­avirus out­break.

“The CIA and the Media” by Carl Bern­stein; Rolling Stone; 10/20/1977.

. . . . The New York Times. The Agency’s rela­tion­ship with the Times was by far its most valu­able among news­pa­pers, accord­ing to CIA offi­cials. From 1950 to 1966, about ten CIA employ­ees were pro­vid­ed Times cov­er under arrange­ments approved by the newspaper’s late pub­lish­er, Arthur Hays Sulzberg­er. The cov­er arrange­ments were part of a gen­er­al Times policy—set by Sulzberger—to pro­vide assis­tance to the CIA when­ev­er pos­si­ble. Sulzberg­er was espe­cial­ly close to Allen Dulles. “At that lev­el of con­tact it was the mighty talk­ing to the mighty,” said a high‑level CIA offi­cial who was present at some of the dis­cus­sions. “There was an agree­ment in prin­ci­ple that, yes indeed, we would help each oth­er. The ques­tion of cov­er came up on sev­er­al occa­sions.  It was agreed that the actu­al arrange­ments would be han­dled by sub­or­di­nates.... The mighty didn’t want to know the specifics; they want­ed plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty. . . .

15. In in his 1985 vol­ume Amer­i­can Swasti­ka, the late author Charles High­am pro­vides us with insight into the Chris­t­ian West con­cept, reveal­ing the extent to which these SS/OSS nego­ti­a­tions set the tem­plate for the post-World War II world, as well as the degree of res­o­nance that key Amer­i­cans, such as Allen Dulles, had with Nazi ide­ol­o­gy, anti-Semi­tism in par­tic­u­lar. Weigh­ing the long, pro­found rela­tion­ship between Dulles and The Times, this is pre­sent­ed as some­thing of a “nav­i­ga­tion­al aid” to analy­sis of the weaponized cov­er­age of the virus.

The post­war polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic real­i­ties of the Dulles, Hohen­lo­he, Schel­len­berg meet­ings were fur­ther solid­i­fied when William (Wild Bill) Dono­van entered into his “M” Project. Impor­tant to note in this con­text, is the dom­i­nant role in world affairs played by car­tels, the fun­da­men­tal ele­ment in the indus­tri­al and finan­cial axis that was essen­tial to the cre­ation and per­pet­u­a­tion of fas­cism. Much of the Third Reich’s mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex, the pri­ma­cy of Ger­many in the post­war EU, as well as the cor­re­la­tion between post­war Europe as con­struct­ed in the Chris­t­ian West nego­ti­a­tions and long-stand­ing Ger­man plans for Euro­pean dom­i­na­tion are deriv­a­tive of the pow­er of car­tels. The Chris­t­ian West and “M” Projects:

  1. Revealed that Allen Dulles’ views res­onat­ed with Third Reich anti-Semi­tism, and that his opin­ions were shared by oth­er, like-mind­ed Amer­i­can pow­er bro­kers: ” . . . . He said that it would be unbear­able for any decent Euro­pean to think that the Jews might return some­day, and that there must be no tol­er­a­tion of a return of the Jew­ish pow­er posi­tions. . . . He made the curi­ous asser­tion that the Amer­i­cans were only con­tin­u­ing the war to get rid of the Jews and that there were peo­ple in Amer­i­ca who were intend­ing to send the Jews to Africa. . . .”
  2. Set the tem­plate for the post­war Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many and the EU: ” . . . . He [Dulles] reit­er­at­ed his desire for a greater Euro­pean polit­i­cal federation–and fore­saw the fed­er­al Ger­many that in fact took place. . . . Ger­many would be set up as the dom­i­nat­ing force in indus­try and agri­cul­ture in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, at the heart of a con­ti­nen­tal state run by Ger­many, the U.S.A., and Great Britain as a focus of trade. . . .”
  3. Were the vehi­cle for Allen Dulles to betray much of the Allied mil­i­tary plans for South­ern Europe to the Third Reich: “. . . . Dulles now pro­ceed­ed to sup­ply Hohen­lo­he with dol­lops of secret intel­li­gence, announc­ing that the U.S. Army would not land in Spain but, after con­quer­ing Tunisia, would advance from Africa toward the Ploesti oil fields to cut off the Ger­man oil sup­plies. He said it was like­ly the Allies would land in Sici­ly to cut off Rom­mel and con­trol Italy from there, and thus secure the advance in the Balka­ns. Hav­ing giv­en vir­tu­al­ly the entire bat­tle plan for Europe, top secret at the time, to one of Ger­many’s agents, Allen Dulles pro­ceed­ed to the almost unnec­es­sary rid­er that he had very good rela­tions with the Vat­i­can. . . .”
  4. Direct­ly fore­shad­owed the con­fronta­tion between the U.S. and the Sovi­et Union which became the Cold War.  “. . . . In oth­er meet­ings, Dulles . . . . pre­dict­ed that ‘the next world war would be between the U.S.A. and the Sovi­et Union.’ . . . .”
  5. Were the occa­sion for Dulles to laud the “genius” of Nazi pro­pa­gan­da min­is­ter Joseph Goebbels: “He . . . . described a recent speech by Dr. Goebbels as ‘a work of genius; I have rarely read a speech with such ratio­nal plea­sure.’ . . . .”

Amer­i­can Swasti­ka by Charles High­am; Dou­ble­day & Co. [HC]; Copy­right 1985 by Charles High­am; ISBN 0–385-17874–3; pp. 191–194.

. . . . Dulles pressed ahead. He said that it would be unbear­able for any decent Euro­pean to think that the Jews might return some­day, and that there must be no tol­er­a­tion of a return of the Jew­ish pow­er posi­tions. He reit­er­at­ed his desire for a greater Euro­pean polit­i­cal federation–and fore­saw the fed­er­al Ger­many that in fact took place. . . . He made the curi­ous asser­tion that the Amer­i­cans were only con­tin­u­ing the war to get rid of the Jews and that there were peo­ple in Amer­i­ca who were intend­ing to send the Jews to Africa. This was Hitler’s dream of course: that the Jews would go to Mada­gas­car and stay there. . . .
. . . . Dulles now pro­ceed­ed to sup­ply Hohen­lo­he with dol­lops of secret intel­li­gence, announc­ing that the U.S. Army would not land in Spain but, after con­quer­ing Tunisia, would advance from Africa toward the Ploesti oil fields to cut off the Ger­man oil sup­plies. He said it was like­ly the Allies would land in Sici­ly to cut off Rom­mel and con­trol Italy from there, and thus secure the advance in the Balka­ns. Hav­ing giv­en vir­tu­al­ly the entire bat­tle plan for Europe, top secret at the time, to one of Ger­many’s agents, Allen Dulles pro­ceed­ed to the almost unnec­es­sary rid­er that he had very good rela­tions with the Vat­i­can. . . .
. . . . In oth­er meet­ings, Dulles . . . . pre­dict­ed that “the next world war would be between the U.S.A. and the Sovi­et Union.” . . . . Dulles obtained a great deal of infor­ma­tion relat­ing to Ger­many and plans for its recon­struc­tion after the war. He . . . . described a recent speech by Dr. Goebbels as “a work of genius; I have rarely read a speech with such ratio­nal plea­sure.” . . . .
. . . . In July, [OSS chief William] Dono­van and the OSS began to take mat­ters into their own hands. No doubt inspired by the invig­o­rat­ing meet­ing in Switzer­land, Dono­van embarked on the so-called “M” project. . . .
. . . . By now, the Ger­man [Franz Von Papen] had read the details of the peace pro­pos­al on micro­film and learned that it was more or less on the same lines as the Dulles pro­pos­als. Ger­many would be set up as the dom­i­nat­ing force in indus­try and agri­cul­ture in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, at the heart of a con­ti­nen­tal state run by Ger­many, the U.S.A., and Great Britain as a focus of trade. . . . 

16. In the con­text of Allen Dulles’s ori­en­ta­tion and his rela­tion­ship with The New York Times, we present a look at The New York Times’ use of a Third Reich alum­nus named Paul Hof­mann as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent, serv­ing as chief of The Times’ Rome bureau, and cov­er­ing the Gray Lady’s cov­er­age of the CIA’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the over­throw of Patrice Lumum­ba.

The Dev­il’s Chess­board: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of Amer­i­ca’s Secret Gov­ern­ment by David Tal­bot; Harp­er [HC]; 2015; Copy­right 2015 by The Tal­bot Play­ers LLC; ISBN 978–0‑06–227616‑2; pp. 383–384.

 . . . . As the Con­go cri­sis reached its cli­max, a new cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times showed up in Leopoldville with a dis­tinct­ly anti-Lumum­ba bias. Paul Hof­mann was a diminu­tive, sophis­ti­cat­ed Aus­tri­an with a col­or­ful past. Dur­ing the war, he served in Rome as a top aide to the noto­ri­ous Nazi gen­er­al Kurt Malz­er, who was lat­er con­vict­ed of the mass mur­der of Ital­ian par­ti­sans. At some point, Hof­mann became an informer for the Allies, and after the war he became close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Jim Angle­ton. The Angle­ton fam­i­ly helped place Hof­mann in the Rome bureau of The New York Times, where he con­tin­ued to be of use to his friends in U.S. intel­li­gence, trans­lat­ing reports from con­fi­den­tial sources inside the Vat­i­can and pass­ing them along to Angle­ton. Hof­mann became one of the Times’s lead­ing for­eign cor­re­spon­dents, even­tu­al­ly tak­ing over the news­pa­per’s Rome bureau and para­chut­ing from time to time into inter­na­tion­al hot spots like the Con­go. . . .

17. Noth­ing illus­trates this coun­try’s media and their will­ing­ness to dis­tort infor­ma­tion than the NBC tele­vi­sion broad­cast arranged by Wal­ter Sheri­dan.  Sheri­dan is a career intel­li­gence offi­cer, with rela­tion­ship with the Office of Naval Intel­li­gence, the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.

Exem­pli­fy­ing Sheri­dan’s method­ol­o­gy was the treat­ment met­ed out to Fred Lee­mans, who was the cli­mac­tic per­son inter­viewed by Sheri­dan in his spe­cial. Note the open intim­i­da­tion of Lee­mans and his fam­i­ly, threat­en­ing them if they did not per­jure them­selves, betray Gar­ri­son, and coop­er­ate with both Sheri­dan and Clay Shaw’s coun­sel! 

Des­tiny Betrayed by Jim DiEu­ge­nio; Sky­horse Pub­lish­ing [SC]; Copy­right 1992, 2012 by Jim DiEu­ge­nio; ISBN 978–1‑62087–056‑3; pp. 240–241.

. . . . One of the more star­tling dec­la­ra­tions that the ARRB uncov­ered was an affi­davit by a man named Fred Lee­mans. Lee­mans was  a Turk­ish bath own­er who orig­i­nal­ly told gar­ri­son that a man named Clay Bertrand had fre­quent­ed his estab­lish­ment. Lee­mans was  the cli­mac­tic inter­view for Sheri­dan’s spe­cial. He tes­ti­fied on the show that the DA’s office had actu­al­ly approached him first, that he nev­er  knew that Shaw used the alias Bertrand, that every­thing he had  pre­vi­ous­ly said to the DA’s office were things he was led  to say by them, and that they had offered to pay him 2,500 dol­lars for his affi­davit in which in which he would now say that Shaw was Bertrand and that Shaw came into his estab­lish­ment once with Oswald. In oth­er words, all the things Nov­el had been say­ing in his pub­lic dec­la­ra­tions about Gar­ri­son were accu­rate. At the end of  his inter­view, Lee­mans told Sheri­dan and the pub­lic that every­thing he had just revealed on cam­era was giv­en to NBC freely and vol­un­tar­i­ly. Lee­mans even said that he had actu­al­ly asked Sheri­dan for some mon­e­tary help but Sheri­dan had said he did not do things like that.

In Jan­u­ary of 1969, Lee­mans signed an affi­davit in which he declared the fol­low­ing as the true chain of events:

“I would like to state the rea­sons for which I appeared on the NBC show and lied about my con­tacts  with the Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office. First, I received numer­ous anony­mous threat­en­ing phone calls rel­a­tive to the infor­ma­tion I had giv­en to Mr. Gar­ri­son. The gist of these calls was to the effect that if I did not change my state­ment and state that I had been bribed by Jim Gar­rison’s office, I and my fam­i­ly would be in phys­i­cal dan­ger. In addi­tion to the anony­mous phone calls, I was vis­it­ed by a man who exhib­it­ed a badge and stat­ed that he was a gov­ern­ment agent. This man informed me that the gov­ern­ment was  present­ly check­ing the bar own­ers in the Slidell area for pos­si­ble income tax vio­la­tions. This man then inquired whether I was the Mr. Lee­mans involved in the Clay Shaw case. When I informed him that I was, he said that it was not smart to be involved because a lot of peo­ple that had been got hurt and that peo­ple in pow­er­ful places would see to it that I was tak­en care of. One of the anony­mous callers sug­gest­ed that I change my state­ment and state that I had been bribed by Gar­rison’s office to give him the infor­ma­tion about Clay Shaw. He sug­gest­ed that I con­tact Mr. Irvin Dymond, attor­ney for Clay L. Shaw and tell him that I gave Mr. Gar­ri­son the state­ment about Shaw only after Mr. Lee [Gar­rison’s assis­tant DA] offered me 2,500 dol­lars. After con­sult­ing with Mr. Dymond by tele­phone and in per­son, I was intro­duced to Wal­ter Sheri­dan, inves­tiga­tive reporter for NBC, who was then in the process of prepar­ing the NBC show. Mr. Dymond and Mr. Sheri­dan sug­gest­ed that I appear on the show and state what I had orig­i­nal­ly told Mr. Dymond about the bribe offer by the Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office. I was informed by Mr. Dymond that should the Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office charge me with giv­ing false infor­ma­tion as a result of the state­ment  I had orig­i­nal­ly giv­en them, he  would see to it that I had an attor­ney and that a bond would be post­ed for me. In this  con­nec­tion, Mr. Dymond gave me his home and office tele­phone num­bers and and advised me that I could con­tact him at any time of day or night should I be charged by Gar­rison’s office as a result of my appear­ing on the NBC show. My actu­al appear­ance on the show was taped in the  office of Aaron Kohn, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Crime Com­mis­sion, in the pres­ence of Wal­ter Sheri­dan and Irvin Dymond.”

This is one of the most reveal­ing doc­u­ments por­tray­ing the lengths to which Sheri­dan would go in tam­per­ing with wit­ness­es. It also demon­strates that Shaw’s lawyers—Bill and Ed Weg­mann, Irvin Dymond, and Sal Panzeca—knew almost no bound­ary in what kind of help they would accept to win their case. Third, it reveals that Shaw’s lawyers had access to a net­work of attor­neys that they could hire at any time for any wit­ness they could pry loose from Gar­ri­son. Because, as the declas­si­fied ARRB doc­u­ments reveal, there  was a CIA cleared attor­ney’s pan­el that was at work in New Orleans. Attor­neys that the Agency vet­ted in advance so they would be suit­able for their covert use and could be trust­ed in their aims. The fact that Shaw’s lawyers were privy to such CIA secret knowl­edge, and wee uti­liz­ing it, shows just how will­ing and eager they were  to indulge them­selves in covert help—and then lie about it. . . .

Discussion

11 comments for “FTR #1113 and FTR #1114 The Chinese Winter: Weaponized Media, Social Media and the Coronavirus Biowarfare Psy-Op Parts 1 and 2”

  1. The glob­al alarm over the SARS-CoV­‑2 coro­n­avirus behind the COVID-19 ill­ness is start­ing to get extra weird. While Steve Ban­non’s media efforts to foment as much alarm as pos­si­ble about the sit­u­a­tion in Chi­na is con­tin­u­ing unabat­ed, the larg­er right-wing media machine that has been heav­i­ly pro­mot­ing Ban­non’s idea that the virus is some sort of biowar­fare research prod­uct of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment that was either inten­tion­al­ly or acci­den­tal­ly released has a new set of memes to pro­mote now that the virus is show­ing up in the US and tank­ing the US stock mar­ket.

    For starters, Rush Lim­baugh has been down­play­ing the coro­n­avirus as noth­ing more than the com­mon cold and has been assert­ing that all of the media atten­tion and alarm and finan­cial mar­ket tur­moil is all part of a plot to bring down Trump because Chi­na wants Bernie Sanders to become pres­i­dent:

    Media Mat­ters

    Rush Lim­baugh: “The coro­n­avirus is an effort to get Trump”

    Lim­baugh: “It came from a coun­try that Bernie Sanders wants to turn the Unit­ed States into a mir­ror image of: Com­mu­nist Chi­na”

    Writ­ten by Media Mat­ters Staff

    Pub­lished 02/24/20 4:08 PM EST

    From the Feb­ru­ary 24, 2020, edi­tion of Pre­miere Radio Net­works’ The Rush Lim­baugh Show:

    RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Folks, this coro­n­avirus thing, I want to try to put this in per­spec­tive for you. It looks like the coro­n­avirus is being weaponized as yet anoth­er ele­ment to bring down Don­ald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coro­n­avirus. You think I’m wrong about this? You think I’m miss­ing it by say­ing that’s — Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coro­n­avirus is the com­mon cold, folks.

    The dri­ve-by media hype of this thing as a pan­dem­ic, as the Androm­e­da strain, as, “Oh, my God. If you get it, you’re dead,” do you know what the — I think the sur­vival rate is 98%. Nine­ty-eight per­cent of peo­ple who get the coro­n­avirus sur­vive. It’s a res­pi­ra­to­ry sys­tem virus. It prob­a­bly is a ChiCom lab­o­ra­to­ry exper­i­ment that is in the process of being weaponized. All super­pow­er nations weaponize bioweapons. They exper­i­ment with them. The Rus­sians, for exam­ple, have weaponized fen­tanyl. Now, fen­tanyl is also not what it is rep­re­sent­ed to be.

    If you watch cop shows, then you prob­a­bly, stick with me on this, if you watch cop shows, you prob­a­bly believe that just the dust from a pack­age of fen­tanyl can kill you if you’re in the same room with it. Not true. Not true. Even the cheap kind of fen­tanyl com­ing from Chi­na that’s used to spike hero­in. They use fen­tanyl because it’s cheap. It gives a quick hit, doesn’t last very long, which is real­ly cool if you’re try­ing to addict peo­ple.

    But it doesn’t kill peo­ple the way it’s pro­ject­ed on TV. It can if you OD on it. But inhal­ing a lit­tle fen­tanyl dust is not going to cause you to lose con­scious­ness and stop breath­ing as they pre­dict or depict on cop shows. It’s dan­ger­ous. Don’t mis­un­der­stand. But it isn’t the way it’s por­trayed in pop­u­lar crim­i­nal TV shows, cop shows, and so forth and so on. The coro­n­avirus is the same. It’s real­ly being hyped as a dead­ly Androm­e­da strain or Ebo­la pan­dem­ic that, “Oh, my God, is going to wipe out the nation. It’s going to wipe out the pop­u­la­tion of the world.”

    The stock market’s down like 900 points right now. And I think — the sur­vival rate of this is 98%! You have to read very deeply to find that num­ber. Two per­cent of the peo­ple get the coro­n­avirus die. That’s less than the flu, folks. That is a far low­er death sta­tis­tic than any form of influen­za, which is an annu­al thing that every­body gets shots for. There’s noth­ing unusu­al about the coro­n­avirus. In fact, coro­n­avirus is not some­thing new. There are all kinds of virus­es that have that name. Now, do not mis­un­der­stand. I’m not try­ing to get you to let your guard down.

    Nobody wants to get any of this stuff. I mean, you nev­er… I hate get­ting the com­mon cold. You don’t want to get the flu. It’s mis­er­able. But we’re not talk­ing about some­thing here that’s gonna wipe out your town or your city if it finds its way there. This is a clas­sic illus­tra­tion of how media cov­er­age — even if this media cov­er­age isn’t stacked, even if this is just the way media nor­mal­ly does things, this is a hyped, pan­ic-filled ver­sion. It’s exact­ly how the media deals with these things to cre­ate audi­ence, read­er­ship, inter­est, clicks, what have you.

    It orig­i­nat­ed in Chi­na in a lit­tle — well, not a lit­tle town. It’s a town that is 11 mil­lion peo­ple, Wuhan, Chi­na. And one of the rea­sons they’re able to hype this is that the doc­tor what warned every­body about it came down with it and died. And so if a doc­tor got it, “Oh, my God, Rush! A doc­tor got it? You can’t pos­si­bly be right if a doc­tor can’t pro­tect him­self.” He didn’t know what he was deal­ing with. He dis­cov­ered it back in Decem­ber. I’m telling you, the ChiComs are try­ing to weaponize this thing. Here’s the sto­ry on Rus­sians and fen­tanyl.

    Fen­tanyl is a very, very pow­er­ful opi­ate — and for those of you that haven’t had any expe­ri­ence with opi­ates, the peo­ple that get addict­ed to ’em take them and they get very euphor­ic. They kill pain. They do won­der­ful things. But they make you very, very euphor­ic. They act like speed. Oth­er peo­ple take them, and they hate them. It makes ’em vom­it, throw up, feel nau­seous. It doesn’t do any­thing for them. They’re nev­er gonna get addict­ed.

    So in Moscow the Chechens, way back. I’m gonna go back now — what is it — maybe 10 years or longer. A bunch of Chechen rebels took over an opera house and had a bunch of Russ­ian hostages in there and made all kinds of threats — and Putin, unbe­knownst to any­body, had weaponized fen­tanyl. He had turned it into a gas, an invis­i­ble gas. He just put it in the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem of this opera house or what­ev­er it was, I’m giv­ing you the sketchy, short ver­sion of this, and every­body in there fell asleep and died. You know, in a drug over­dose, you stop breath­ing.

    That’s what… It slows down your res­pi­ra­to­ry sys­tem so much that you stop breath­ing. That’s what an OD is. And every­body in that place, includ­ing the Chechens — had no idea what hap­pened to ’em. It’s not vio­lent. You just fall asleep for unknown rea­sons at the amounts that Putin weaponized and put in there. If you take a nor­mal dose of fen­tanyl that you get from a doc­tor in a hos­pi­tal, it’s not gonna kill you, obvi­ous­ly. But the amount they weaponized — and up to this time, nobody had ever weaponized fen­tanyl.

    Nobody had ever made it into an invis­i­ble, odor­less, col­or­less gas, until it was dis­cov­ered that the Rus­sians had done it. Well, every nation is work­ing on things like this, and the ChiComs obvi­ous­ly in their lab are doing some­thing here with the coro­n­avirus — and it got out. Some peo­ple believe it got out on pur­pose, that the ChiComs have a whole lot of prob­lems based on an econ­o­my that can­not pro­vide for the num­ber of peo­ple they have. So los­ing a few peo­ple here or there is not so bad for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment.

    There could be any­thing to explain this.

    But the way it’s being used… I believe the way it’s being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it’s being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare peo­ple in busi­ness. It’s to scare peo­ple into not buy­ing Trea­sury bills at auc­tions. It’s to scare peo­ple into leav­ing, cash­ing out of the stock mar­ket — and true enough, as the show began today, the stock mar­ket — the Dow Jones Indus­tri­al Aver­age — was down about 900 points, sup­pos­ed­ly because of the lat­est news about the spread of the coro­n­avirus.

    And if you go deep­er into Chi­na, you will see that all of the high-tech Sil­i­con Val­ley firms are said to be ter­ri­bly exposed. “They could be suf­fer­ing a dis­as­trous year. Why, you may not be able to buy a new iPhone of any mod­el this whole year! Do you know that? Because the coro­n­avirus is so bad that the fac­to­ries may nev­er open — and if they do, they may not be any­where near full capac­i­ty.” So Apple may not be able to release any new prod­uct. You think that’s not gonna pan­ic investors? It most cer­tain­ly is.

    So Apple is try­ing to do what they can to sug­gest that these rumors are not true. They got new prod­ucts com­ing this year. But the tech media hates Apple. They love anti-Apple sto­ries. They love any­thing that will let them report that Apple’s on its last legs. Of course, that’s not true. War­ren Buf­fett came out today and said, “Apple is the best-run com­pa­ny ever.” He’s a big stock­hold­er, so peo­ple will say he’s biased about it. But the bias you have to pay atten­tion to is how much mon­ey he invest­ed. He got $36 bil­lion in Apple stock that Berk­shire Hath­away has.

    They sold $800 mil­lion of Apple stock last week, and every­body said, “Oh, my God, he’s get­ting out!” No, he’s not. He’s got $36 bil­lion. He sold $800 mil­lion. No big deal. He want­ed to allo­cate it some­where else. So this is… I think the coro­n­avirus is an effort to get Trump. It’s not gonna work. It’s one of the lat­est in a long line of efforts that the dri­ve-by media is mak­ing to some­how say that Trump and cap­i­tal­ism are destroy­ing Amer­i­ca and destroy­ing the world. Just keep in mind where the coro­n­avirus came from.

    It came from a coun­try that Bernie Sanders wants to turn the Unit­ed States into a mir­ror image of: Com­mu­nist Chi­na. That’s where it came from. It didn’t come from an Amer­i­can lab. It didn’t escape from an Amer­i­can research lab. It hasn’t been spread by Amer­i­cans. It starts out in a com­mu­nist coun­try. Its ten­ta­cles spread all across the world in num­bers that are not big and not huge, but they’re being report­ed as just the oppo­site. Just try­ing to keep it all in per­spec­tive.

    ———-

    “Rush Lim­baugh: “The coro­n­avirus is an effort to get Trump”” by Media Mat­ters Staff; Media Mat­ters; 02/24/2020

    “Folks, this coro­n­avirus thing, I want to try to put this in per­spec­tive for you. It looks like the coro­n­avirus is being weaponized as yet anoth­er ele­ment to bring down Don­ald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coro­n­avirus. You think I’m wrong about this? You think I’m miss­ing it by say­ing that’s — Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coro­n­avirus is the com­mon cold, folks.

    It’s just the com­mon cold. That’s the meme com­ing out of Lim­baugh is Lim­baugh is still the chief right-wing meme-mak­er. Now, it’s true that the coro­n­avirus looks right now like a par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty ver­sion of the flu which is far from the tenor of much of the cov­er­age of the virus. But por­tray­ing it as the com­mon cold is a pret­ty remark­able stretch even for Lim­baugh.

    Lim­baugh then goes on to repeat the pre­vail­ing right-wing meme that it came from a Chi­nese biowar­fare lab. But now he’s adding the twist that it’s all a plot against Trump. By Chi­na. To get Bernie Sanders elect­ed:

    ...
    The dri­ve-by media hype of this thing as a pan­dem­ic, as the Androm­e­da strain, as, “Oh, my God. If you get it, you’re dead,” do you know what the — I think the sur­vival rate is 98%. Nine­ty-eight per­cent of peo­ple who get the coro­n­avirus sur­vive. It’s a res­pi­ra­to­ry sys­tem virus. It prob­a­bly is a ChiCom lab­o­ra­to­ry exper­i­ment that is in the process of being weaponized. All super­pow­er nations weaponize bioweapons. They exper­i­ment with them. The Rus­sians, for exam­ple, have weaponized fen­tanyl. Now, fen­tanyl is also not what it is rep­re­sent­ed to be.

    ...

    There could be any­thing to explain this.

    But the way it’s being used… I believe the way it’s being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it’s being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare peo­ple in busi­ness. It’s to scare peo­ple into not buy­ing Trea­sury bills at auc­tions. It’s to scare peo­ple into leav­ing, cash­ing out of the stock mar­ket — and true enough, as the show began today, the stock mar­ket — the Dow Jones Indus­tri­al Aver­age — was down about 900 points, sup­pos­ed­ly because of the lat­est news about the spread of the coro­n­avirus.

    And if you go deep­er into Chi­na, you will see that all of the high-tech Sil­i­con Val­ley firms are said to be ter­ri­bly exposed. “They could be suf­fer­ing a dis­as­trous year. Why, you may not be able to buy a new iPhone of any mod­el this whole year! Do you know that? Because the coro­n­avirus is so bad that the fac­to­ries may nev­er open — and if they do, they may not be any­where near full capac­i­ty.” So Apple may not be able to release any new prod­uct. You think that’s not gonna pan­ic investors? It most cer­tain­ly is.

    So Apple is try­ing to do what they can to sug­gest that these rumors are not true. They got new prod­ucts com­ing this year. But the tech media hates Apple. They love anti-Apple sto­ries. They love any­thing that will let them report that Apple’s on its last legs. Of course, that’s not true. War­ren Buf­fett came out today and said, “Apple is the best-run com­pa­ny ever.” He’s a big stock­hold­er, so peo­ple will say he’s biased about it. But the bias you have to pay atten­tion to is how much mon­ey he invest­ed. He got $36 bil­lion in Apple stock that Berk­shire Hath­away has.

    They sold $800 mil­lion of Apple stock last week, and every­body said, “Oh, my God, he’s get­ting out!” No, he’s not. He’s got $36 bil­lion. He sold $800 mil­lion. No big deal. He want­ed to allo­cate it some­where else. So this is… I think the coro­n­avirus is an effort to get Trump. It’s not gonna work. It’s one of the lat­est in a long line of efforts that the dri­ve-by media is mak­ing to some­how say that Trump and cap­i­tal­ism are destroy­ing Amer­i­ca and destroy­ing the world. Just keep in mind where the coro­n­avirus came from.

    It came from a coun­try that Bernie Sanders wants to turn the Unit­ed States into a mir­ror image of: Com­mu­nist Chi­na. That’s where it came from. It didn’t come from an Amer­i­can lab. It didn’t escape from an Amer­i­can research lab. It hasn’t been spread by Amer­i­cans. It starts out in a com­mu­nist coun­try. Its ten­ta­cles spread all across the world in num­bers that are not big and not huge, but they’re being report­ed as just the oppo­site. Just try­ing to keep it all in per­spec­tive.
    ...

    That was the sta­tus of the right-wing meme machine a few days ago. Then yes­ter­day we had Trump him­self con­fi­den­tial­ly pub­licly pre­dict­ing dur­ing a bonkers press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day that the 15 known cas­es in the US (it was actu­al­ly 60 cas­es at the time) were rapid­ly going to dwin­dle down close to 0 zero cas­es. Yep, he’s assur­ing every­one that there’s basi­cal­ly going to be no wide­spread out­break in the US, which rais­es the ques­tion of who exact­ly he’s lis­ten­ing to when mak­ing these pre­dic­tions. Because now we’re hear­ing that Trump became furi­ous when those rosy pre­dic­tions were under­cut by the direc­tor of the Nation­al Cen­ter for Immu­niza­tion and Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­eases, Dr. Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, after she issued a pub­lic warn­ing that an out­break in the US now appears inevitable.

    It gets worse. It turns out Mes­son­nier is the sis­ter of Rod Rosen­stein, the for­mer Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al who became the pub­lic face of the #Rus­si­a­Gate probe after Jeff Ses­sions recused him­self. This rela­tion­ship between the gov­ern­ment offi­cial who con­tra­dict­ed Trump on the coro­n­avirus and the much-hate Rosen­stein (who is actu­al­ly a life-long Repub­li­can) imme­di­ate­ly trig­gered the far right con­spir­a­cy-tain­ment com­plex. And now, pre­dictably, the new meme com­ing from Lim­baugh is that the “Deep State” is hyp­ing the coro­n­avirus risk to the US as part of a plot to bring down Trump, with the impli­ca­tion that Dr. Mes­son­nier is part of that deep state con­spir­a­cy and that’s why she made that pre­dic­tion of a pub­lic out­break. And Trump is open­ly agree­ing with this meme:

    Salon

    Con­ser­v­a­tives push coro­n­avirus con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry alleg­ing a “deep state” plot to “bring down” Trump
    The broth­er of a top Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol offi­cial is for­mer Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rod Rosen­stein

    Igor Derysh
    Feb­ru­ary 27, 2020 4:52PM (UTC)

    Con­ser­v­a­tives have spread a base­less coro­n­avirus con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry alleg­ing that a top offi­cial at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol could be part of a “deep state” plot to “bring down” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, because her broth­er is for­mer Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rod Rosen­stein.

    Trump was report­ed­ly “furi­ous” after Dr. Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, the direc­tor of the Nation­al Cen­ter for Immu­niza­tion and Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­eases, under­cut his attempts to down­play the risk posed by the coro­n­avirus by issu­ing a pub­lic warn­ing that an out­break in the U.S. now appears inevitable.

    “She nev­er should have said that,” a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial told CNBC. “It’s bad.”

    Mes­son­nier is the sis­ter of Rosen­stein, who appoint­ed for­mer spe­cial coun­sel Bob Mueller and report­ed­ly dis­cussed remov­ing Trump from office, a claim which he has denied.

    Trump sup­port­ers like radio host Rush Lim­baugh quick­ly linked Mes­son­nier’s pub­lic health warn­ing to Trump­world’s nev­er-end­ing con­spir­a­cy that the “deep state” is try­ing to under­mine the pres­i­dent.

    Lim­baugh, who was award­ed the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom ear­li­er this month, pre­vi­ous­ly claimed that the coro­n­avirus, which has spread to dozens of coun­tries and killed more than 2,800 peo­ple, is noth­ing more than a “com­mon cold” that is being “weaponized” to “bring down” Trump.

    Lim­baugh went a step fur­ther Tues­day, lick­ing Mes­son­nier to the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry because her broth­er is Rosen­stein.

    “So you’ve got here the CDC urg­ing Amer­i­cans to pre­pare for a coro­n­avirus virus out­break. ‘This might be bad, could be bad. Keep your kids at home. Don’t go any­where. It might be bad. We’ve got 53 cas­es. It might be bad. It could be.’ The stock mar­ket’s plung­ing. OK. This per­son run­ning this agency, who does she donate to? Well, her broth­er is Rod Rosen­stein,” Lim­baugh said.

    After a com­mer­cial break, Lim­baugh insist­ed that he was just putting the infor­ma­tion out there and lis­ten­ers could “do what you want with it.”

    “It may mean noth­ing. Might . . . Who knows?” he said. “It’s just in that town — I’m telling you, every­thing is inces­tu­ous. Most of that town is estab­lish­ment ori­ent­ed or root­ed, which means they despise Trump.”

    Oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive pun­dits soon fol­lowed.

    “The broth­er of the CDC’s Dr. Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, is the cor­rupt dis­graced for­mer DAG Rod Rosen­stein,” wrote Jim Hoft, edi­tor of the far-right Gate­way Pun­dit. “Fol­low­ing in his foot­steps, Dr. Mes­son­nier dropped a bomb on Pres­i­dent Trump while he was in India yes­ter­day . . . This was eeri­ly sim­i­lar to past pres­i­den­tial trips when for­mer and cor­rupt DAG Rod Rosen­stein and the cor­rupt and crim­i­nal Mueller gang would drop shock­ing news as the pres­i­dent was over­seas.”

    Fel­low Trump boost­er Wayne Dupree pub­lished a sim­i­lar blog post.

    “Rod Rosen­stein, as we all know, def­i­nite­ly worked to under­mine the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, which is odd­ly exact­ly what his sis­ter is doing by under­min­ing the more log­i­cal and calm mes­sage the pres­i­den­t’s team has issued on the virus,” he wrote. “Looks like this is yet anoth­er instance of D.C. swamp crea­tures using any oppor­tu­ni­ty to under­mine Pres­i­dent Trump.”

    All of the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries appeared to be based on the fact that Mes­son­nier’s warn­ing was much stark­er than com­ments by Trump and admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. But Trump and his team went to com­i­cal lengths to down­play the risk posed by the virus, which has infect­ed more than 82,000 peo­ple. Trump and admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials sim­i­lar­ly went out of their way to hit out at crit­i­cism of the pres­i­den­t’s han­dling of the out­break.

    “Sev­er­al of the offi­cials who spoke . . . seemed less con­cerned about con­tain­ing the spread of coro­n­avirus than with halt­ing the prop­a­ga­tion of crit­i­cism of Trump and the admin­is­tra­tion,” wrote The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Philip Bump.

    Mes­son­nier’s warn­ing was in line with those of health offi­cials around the world, some of whom crit­i­cized the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s attempts to down­play the risk of the virus to reduce polit­i­cal fall­out.

    “He just revealed how igno­rant he is about the sit­u­a­tion,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a spe­cial advis­er to the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion who pre­vi­ous­ly worked in the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, told MSNBC. “I found most of what he said inco­her­ent . . . There’s no evi­dence that the pres­i­dent or peo­ple around him that have been plan­ning this have been tak­ing this seri­ous­ly.”

    Even Repub­li­cans pushed back Wednes­day on the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries.

    “I’ve heard peo­ple jump­ing on Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, because she told us the truth: that it’s not a mat­ter of if — but when,” Rep. Tom Cole, R‑Okla., told Politi­co. “Isn’t that what you want to hear instead of some pie in the sky?”

    But Trump said he agreed with Lim­baugh that the out­break is being weaponized to hurt him polit­i­cal­ly at Wednes­day’s news con­fer­ence.

    “I’d like it to stop,” he said.

    “Have you seen evi­dence that the CDC is try­ing to hurt you?” a reporter asked.

    “No, I don’t think the CDC is at all,” Trump replied. “They’ve been work­ing very well.”

    Trump attempt­ed to calm mar­ket fears over the coro­n­avirus after the Dow Jones plum­met­ed by near­ly 1,900 points in just two days.

    The admin­is­tra­tion’s wide­ly-crit­i­cized response has become a focal point on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail.

    “Trump’s slow-wit­ted response to the coro­n­avirus has already put Amer­i­can lives at risk,” for­mer New York City May­or Mike Bloomberg said.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders, I‑Vt., slammed the admin­is­tra­tion for what he called an “inad­e­quate and incom­pe­tent response.”

    Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren, D‑Mass., vowed to intro­duce a bill to divert fund­ing for Trump’s bor­der wall to the response efforts.

    “I’m going to be intro­duc­ing a plan to take every dime that the pres­i­dent is now spend­ing on his racist wall at our South­ern bor­der and divert it to work on the coro­n­avirus,” she said.

    “The Amer­i­can peo­ple need a well-coor­di­nat­ed, whole-of-gov­ern­ment, ful­ly-fund­ed response to keep them safe from the coro­n­avirus threat. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has mount­ed an opaque and chaot­ic response to this out­break,” House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi, D‑Calif., said, adding that Trump’s recent bud­get pro­pos­al “called for slash­ing almost $700 mil­lion from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol.”

    ...

    ———–

    “Con­ser­v­a­tives push coro­n­avirus con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry alleg­ing a “deep state” plot to “bring down” Trump” by Igor Derysh; Salon; 02/27/2020

    All of the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries appeared to be based on the fact that Mes­son­nier’s warn­ing was much stark­er than com­ments by Trump and admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. But Trump and his team went to com­i­cal lengths to down­play the risk posed by the virus, which has infect­ed more than 82,000 peo­ple. Trump and admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials sim­i­lar­ly went out of their way to hit out at crit­i­cism of the pres­i­den­t’s han­dling of the out­break.”

    Con­tra­dic­tions of Trump’s pie-in-the-sky prog­nos­ti­ca­tions is the sign of a deep state con­spir­a­cy. That’s how Rush Lim­baugh react­ed to Dr. Mes­son­nier’s warn­ings of an out­break and the meme took off:

    ...
    Mes­son­nier is the sis­ter of Rosen­stein, who appoint­ed for­mer spe­cial coun­sel Bob Mueller and report­ed­ly dis­cussed remov­ing Trump from office, a claim which he has denied.

    Trump sup­port­ers like radio host Rush Lim­baugh quick­ly linked Mes­son­nier’s pub­lic health warn­ing to Trump­world’s nev­er-end­ing con­spir­a­cy that the “deep state” is try­ing to under­mine the pres­i­dent.

    ...

    Lim­baugh went a step fur­ther Tues­day, lick­ing Mes­son­nier to the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry because her broth­er is Rosen­stein.

    “So you’ve got here the CDC urg­ing Amer­i­cans to pre­pare for a coro­n­avirus virus out­break. ‘This might be bad, could be bad. Keep your kids at home. Don’t go any­where. It might be bad. We’ve got 53 cas­es. It might be bad. It could be.’ The stock mar­ket’s plung­ing. OK. This per­son run­ning this agency, who does she donate to? Well, her broth­er is Rod Rosen­stein,” Lim­baugh said.

    After a com­mer­cial break, Lim­baugh insist­ed that he was just putting the infor­ma­tion out there and lis­ten­ers could “do what you want with it.”

    “It may mean noth­ing. Might . . . Who knows?” he said. “It’s just in that town — I’m telling you, every­thing is inces­tu­ous. Most of that town is estab­lish­ment ori­ent­ed or root­ed, which means they despise Trump.”

    Oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive pun­dits soon fol­lowed.
    ...

    Even Trump, who was report­ed­ly “furi­ous” about Dr. Mes­sonier’s warn­ings, was open­ly agree­ing with Lim­baugh­’s claims when direct­ly asked by a reporter about it:

    ...
    Trump was report­ed­ly “furi­ous” after Dr. Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, the direc­tor of the Nation­al Cen­ter for Immu­niza­tion and Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­eases, under­cut his attempts to down­play the risk posed by the coro­n­avirus by issu­ing a pub­lic warn­ing that an out­break in the U.S. now appears inevitable.

    “She nev­er should have said that,” a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial told CNBC. “It’s bad.”

    ...

    Even Repub­li­cans pushed back Wednes­day on the con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries.

    “I’ve heard peo­ple jump­ing on Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, because she told us the truth: that it’s not a mat­ter of if — but when,” Rep. Tom Cole, R‑Okla., told Politi­co. “Isn’t that what you want to hear instead of some pie in the sky?”

    But Trump said he agreed with Lim­baugh that the out­break is being weaponized to hurt him polit­i­cal­ly at Wednes­day’s news con­fer­ence.

    “I’d like it to stop,” he said.

    “Have you seen evi­dence that the CDC is try­ing to hurt you?” a reporter asked.

    “No, I don’t think the CDC is at all,” Trump replied. “They’ve been work­ing very well.”

    Trump attempt­ed to calm mar­ket fears over the coro­n­avirus after the Dow Jones plum­met­ed by near­ly 1,900 points in just two days.
    ...

    So it appears the new offi­cial meme from the US right-wing media appa­ra­tus is that reports about the virus spread­ing in the US are actu­al­ly part of a deep state plot to harm Trump. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle makes clear, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has a plan for address­ing this deep state plot: by putting Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence in charge of the coro­n­avirus response. More specif­i­cal­ly, by declar­ing Pence is in charge of the response and forc­ing all pub­lic offi­cials to run their pub­lic respons­es past Pence first. For exam­ple, Dr. Antho­ny S. Fau­ci, the direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tions Dis­eases, told asso­ciates that the White House had instruct­ed him not to say any­thing else with­out clear­ance. So Pence appears to be the point man for ensur­ing that the only offi­cial reports about the coro­n­avirus are rosy reports:

    The New York Times

    Pence Will Con­trol All Coro­n­avirus Mes­sag­ing From Health Offi­cials

    Gov­ern­ment health offi­cials and sci­en­tists will have to clear state­ments with the vice president’s office, one of three peo­ple des­ig­nat­ed as the administration’s pri­ma­ry coro­n­avirus offi­cial.

    By Michael D. Shear and Mag­gie Haber­man
    Feb. 27, 2020
    Updat­ed 1:39 p.m. ET

    WASHINGTON — The White House moved on Thurs­day to tight­en con­trol of coro­n­avirus mes­sag­ing by gov­ern­ment health offi­cials and sci­en­tists, direct­ing them to clear all state­ments and pub­lic appear­ance with the office of Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, accord­ing to sev­er­al offi­cials famil­iar with the new approach.

    Pres­i­dent Trump announced Wednes­day evening that Mr. Pence would coor­di­nate the government’s response to the pub­lic health threat even as he played down the imme­di­ate dan­ger from the virus that is spread­ing rapid­ly across the globe. Mr. Pence was sched­uled to lead a meet­ing of the government’s coro­n­avirus task force on Thurs­day.

    In turn, Mr. Pence said on Thurs­day that he had select­ed Dr. Deb­o­rah L. Birx, the direc­tor of the Unit­ed States effort to com­bat H.I.V. and AIDS, to serve as the Coro­n­avirus Response Coor­di­na­tor for the White House, enlist­ing an expe­ri­enced sci­en­tist and physi­cian to man­age the response to the poten­tial spread of the virus.

    The announce­ments from the White House were intend­ed to show that Mr. Trump and those around him are tak­ing the poten­tial threat to the health of Amer­i­cans seri­ous­ly. Aides said the pres­i­dent want­ed gov­er­nors and mem­bers of Con­gress to have a sin­gle point-per­son to com­mu­ni­cate with, elim­i­nat­ing any jock­ey­ing for pow­er in a decen­tral­ized sit­u­a­tion.

    But with Mr. Pence’s announce­ment, Dr. Birx becomes the third per­son to be des­ig­nat­ed as the administration’s pri­ma­ry coro­n­avirus offi­cial.

    Mr. Trump said that “Mike is going to be in charge, and Mike will report back to me.” Mr. Pence said it will be Dr. Birx. Mean­while, Alex M. Azar II, the health and human ser­vices sec­re­tary, remains the chair­man of the government’s coro­n­avirus task force.

    The vice president’s first move appeared to be aimed at pre­vent­ing the kind of con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments from White House offi­cials and top gov­ern­ment health offi­cials that have plagued the administration’s response. Even dur­ing his news con­fer­ence on Wednes­day, Mr. Trump reject­ed the assess­ment from a top health offi­cial that it was inevitable that the coro­n­avirus would spread more broad­ly inside the Unit­ed States.

    Dr. Antho­ny S. Fau­ci, one of the country’s lead­ing experts on virus­es and the direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tions Dis­eases, told asso­ciates that the White House had instruct­ed him not to say any­thing else with­out clear­ance.

    The new White House approach came as the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion acknowl­edged Thurs­day that a Cal­i­for­nia woman with coro­n­avirus was made to wait days before she was test­ed for the dis­ease because of the agency’s restric­tive cri­te­ria about who may get test­ed.

    And despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to calm the nation’s jit­tery investors, stock mar­kets plunged again Thurs­day morn­ing, open­ing about 2 per­cent low­er amid con­cerns about the poten­tial affects of the virus on the glob­al econ­o­my. Ear­li­er, Euro­pean and Japan­ese stocks fell as well, clos­ing more than 2 per­cent low­er.

    The president’s deci­sion to appoint Mr. Pence to lead the coro­n­avirus response came after sev­er­al days in which his aides grap­pled with whether to name a “coro­n­avirus czar” to coor­di­nate the alpha­bet soup of fed­er­al health and secu­ri­ty agen­cies that have roles to play in pro­tect­ing the coun­try.

    Mr. Trump said at his news con­fer­ence that he was pleased with Mr. Azar’s per­for­mance, call­ing the team that he has led “total­ly bril­liant.” But White House aides, led by Mick Mul­vaney, the act­ing White House chief of staff, have been debat­ing for days whether the admin­is­tra­tion need­ed a point per­son to be the face of the response.

    The deci­sion to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednes­day after the pres­i­dent told some peo­ple that the vice pres­i­dent didn’t “have any­thing else to do,” accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the president’s com­ments.

    Dr. Birx has spent more than three decades work­ing on H.I.V./AIDS immunol­o­gy, vac­cine research, and glob­al health, accord­ing to the White House, which said in a state­ment that she would “bring her infec­tious dis­ease, immuno­log­ic, vac­cine research and inter­a­gency coor­di­nat­ing capac­i­ty to this posi­tion.”

    The president’s selec­tion of Mr. Pence — and the deci­sion to name Dr. Birx as the coor­di­na­tor for the response — fur­ther erodes Mr. Azar’s tra­di­tion­al role as the nation’s top health offi­cial in charge of direct­ing the government’s response to a med­ical cri­sis. Mr. Trump has told peo­ple that he con­sid­ers Mr. Azar to be too “alarmist” about the virus.

    Mr. Azar denied reports that he was not con­sult­ed about the deci­sion or told before the announce­ment Wednes­day evening. He told law­mak­ers dur­ing a House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Thurs­day that when he was informed of Mr. Pence’s selec­tion to head the coro­n­avirus task force, “I said, quote, ‘that’s genius.’”

    Aides to Mr. Pence are aware that there are polit­i­cal risks for the vice pres­i­dent if the response to the virus fal­ters in the days and weeks ahead.

    Crit­ics of the vice pres­i­dent quick­ly point­ed to Mr. Pence’s record on pub­lic health issues when he was gov­er­nor of Indi­ana as evi­dence that he was not the right per­son to lead the government’s response to a health cri­sis. Democ­rats not­ed that Mr. Pence was blamed for aggra­vat­ing a severe AIDS out­break among intra­venous drug users when he opposed calls for a clean nee­dle exchange pro­gram on the grounds it would encour­age more drug use.

    Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi told reporters on Thurs­day morn­ing that she had told Mr. Pence direct­ly that she ques­tioned his new role giv­en that he had “slashed” the pub­lic health bud­get when he was gov­er­nor of Indi­ana.

    “I spoke with the vice pres­i­dent this morn­ing, made some of these con­cerns known to him,” she said. “We have always had a very can­did rela­tion­ship and I expressed to him the con­cern that I had of his being in this posi­tion.”

    Nik­ki Haley, the for­mer U.N. ambas­sador who has kept her­self in the news as a pos­si­ble rival to Mr. Pence as the president’s run­ning mate on the 2020 re-elec­tion tick­et, was ral­ly­ing Trump sup­port­ers at a gath­er­ing of con­ser­v­a­tive activists on Thurs­day.

    “Pres­i­dent Trump brought cap­i­tal­ism back,” Ms. Haley told the crowd at the Con­ser­v­a­tive Polit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence as she kicked off the four-day meet­ing. Mr. Pence is also sched­uled to speak at the gath­er­ing.

    But Mr. Pence’s allies played down the polit­i­cal risks to the vice pres­i­dent and said it was a good idea to put him in charge.

    “He’s been active­ly involved already,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mark Mead­ows, Repub­li­can of North Car­oli­na, said. “He, with Sec­re­tary Azar, have been real­ly engaged for weeks. It’s good to have some­one that ulti­mate­ly can be an addi­tion to the team, although he’s been a part of it. They have Azar and some on his team on the tech­ni­cal side of the virus, but mak­ing sure we have a prop­er response is key.”

    ...

    ———–

    “Pence Will Con­trol All Coro­n­avirus Mes­sag­ing From Health Offi­cials” by Michael D. Shear and Mag­gie Haber­man; The New York Times; 02/27/2020

    The vice president’s first move appeared to be aimed at pre­vent­ing the kind of con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments from White House offi­cials and top gov­ern­ment health offi­cials that have plagued the administration’s response.. Even dur­ing his news con­fer­ence on Wednes­day, Mr. Trump reject­ed the assess­ment from a top health offi­cial that it was inevitable that the coro­n­avirus would spread more broad­ly inside the Unit­ed States.”

    Pre­vent­ing con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments com­ing out of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. That’s Pence’s first move. But, of course, this isn’t going to be a move to pre­vent con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments. It’s going to be a move to pre­vent state­ments that con­tra­dict Trump. And we already have Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci telling asso­ciates that he’s not to say any­thing with­out clear­ance. That’s how this is going to play out: pub­lic offi­cials who actu­al­ly under­stand the sci­ence are going to have to get clear­ance on what they can say from Pence, who will be get­ting his own clear­ance from Trump:

    ...
    Dr. Antho­ny S. Fau­ci, one of the country’s lead­ing experts on virus­es and the direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tions Dis­eases, told asso­ciates that the White House had instruct­ed him not to say any­thing else with­out clear­ance.
    ...

    And what about Alex Azar, the health and human ser­vices sec­re­tary? Well, he was appar­ent­ly too “alarmist” so he’ll pre­sum­ably also have to get his clear­ances from Pence:

    ...
    Mr. Trump said at his news con­fer­ence that he was pleased with Mr. Azar’s per­for­mance, call­ing the team that he has led “total­ly bril­liant.” But White House aides, led by Mick Mul­vaney, the act­ing White House chief of staff, have been debat­ing for days whether the admin­is­tra­tion need­ed a point per­son to be the face of the response.

    The deci­sion to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednes­day after the pres­i­dent told some peo­ple that the vice pres­i­dent didn’t “have any­thing else to do,” accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the president’s com­ments.

    ...

    The president’s selec­tion of Mr. Pence — and the deci­sion to name Dr. Birx as the coor­di­na­tor for the response — fur­ther erodes Mr. Azar’s tra­di­tion­al role as the nation’s top health offi­cial in charge of direct­ing the government’s response to a med­ical cri­sis. Mr. Trump has told peo­ple that he con­sid­ers Mr. Azar to be too “alarmist” about the virus.
    ...

    Part of what’s so absurd about this sit­u­a­tion is that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion appears to be con­fus­ing alarmism over the lethal­i­ty of the coro­n­avirus with alarmism over the infec­tious­ness of the virus. And those two forms of alarmism are rather at odds with each oth­er since uncount­ed mild cas­es lead to an over­es­ti­ma­tion of case fatal­i­ty rates. But right now, with Trump’s stance that the virus isn’t going to break out at all in the US, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is set­ting itself up for a sit­u­a­tion where it sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly under­counts the num­ber of infec­tions which, in turn, is going to cause an inflat­ed cal­cu­lat­ed case fatal­i­ty rate.

    So Trump appears to be set­ting Mike Pence up to be his coro­n­avirus fall guy when the virus inevitably ends up spread­ing across the US. It rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not the polit­i­cal fall­out for a mas­sive bungling of this response is going to be con­tained to Pence or if it will spread to Trump and the rest of the Repub­li­can Par­ty. It does­n’t help that Pence already has a his­to­ry of fuel­ing an HIV out­break when he was gov­er­nor of Indi­ana. But if Pence does end up becom­ing a polit­i­cal lia­bil­i­ty, there’s always Nik­ki Haley who might step in and take his place. Giv­en that a Trump/Haley tick­et in 2020 is prob­a­bly going to be a lot more polit­i­cal­ly appeal­ing than a Trump/Pence tick­et you have to won­der how much Trump cares that he’s set­ting Pence up for polit­i­cal dis­as­ter:

    ...
    Aides to Mr. Pence are aware that there are polit­i­cal risks for the vice pres­i­dent if the response to the virus fal­ters in the days and weeks ahead.

    Crit­ics of the vice pres­i­dent quick­ly point­ed to Mr. Pence’s record on pub­lic health issues when he was gov­er­nor of Indi­ana as evi­dence that he was not the right per­son to lead the government’s response to a health cri­sis. Democ­rats not­ed that Mr. Pence was blamed for aggra­vat­ing a severe AIDS out­break among intra­venous drug users when he opposed calls for a clean nee­dle exchange pro­gram on the grounds it would encour­age more drug use.

    Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi told reporters on Thurs­day morn­ing that she had told Mr. Pence direct­ly that she ques­tioned his new role giv­en that he had “slashed” the pub­lic health bud­get when he was gov­er­nor of Indi­ana.

    “I spoke with the vice pres­i­dent this morn­ing, made some of these con­cerns known to him,” she said. “We have always had a very can­did rela­tion­ship and I expressed to him the con­cern that I had of his being in this posi­tion.”

    Nik­ki Haley, the for­mer U.N. ambas­sador who has kept her­self in the news as a pos­si­ble rival to Mr. Pence as the president’s run­ning mate on the 2020 re-elec­tion tick­et, was ral­ly­ing Trump sup­port­ers at a gath­er­ing of con­ser­v­a­tive activists on Thurs­day.

    “Pres­i­dent Trump brought cap­i­tal­ism back,” Ms. Haley told the crowd at the Con­ser­v­a­tive Polit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence as she kicked off the four-day meet­ing. Mr. Pence is also sched­uled to speak at the gath­er­ing.

    But Mr. Pence’s allies played down the polit­i­cal risks to the vice pres­i­dent and said it was a good idea to put him in charge.

    “He’s been active­ly involved already,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mark Mead­ows, Repub­li­can of North Car­oli­na, said. “He, with Sec­re­tary Azar, have been real­ly engaged for weeks. It’s good to have some­one that ulti­mate­ly can be an addi­tion to the team, although he’s been a part of it. They have Azar and some on his team on the tech­ni­cal side of the virus, but mak­ing sure we have a prop­er response is key.”
    ...

    Final­ly, it’s impor­tant to note that the first case of the coro­n­avirus in the US that does­n’t have a known for­eign source has now been report­ed in Cal­i­for­nia. And it turns out there was an delay in the CDC actu­al­ly test­ing the woman for the coro­n­avirus:

    ...
    The new White House approach came as the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion acknowl­edged Thurs­day that a Cal­i­for­nia woman with coro­n­avirus was made to wait days before she was test­ed for the dis­ease because of the agency’s restric­tive cri­te­ria about who may get test­ed.
    ...

    It’s the kind of case that sug­gests the coro­n­avirus is already spread­ing around inside the US. That’s what was play­ing out at the same time the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is both spread­ing “deep state” con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries at the same time it’s mov­ing to pre­vent pub­lic offi­cials from rais­ing the alarm when nec­es­sary. It’ll be inter­est­ing to see how Steve Ban­non’s hyper-alarmism oper­a­tion inter­sects with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s new ‘every­thing is fine’ oper­a­tion.

    So that’s where we are. The good news is that the virus prob­a­bly has a case fatal­i­ty rate well below the offi­cial 2 per­cent rate found else­where sim­ply because the most mild cas­es aren’t even being detect­ed. The bad news is that the virus appears to spread even more eas­i­ly than the flu. So it might be dead­lier than the flu. Might be about the same as the flu. Or, who knows, maybe even less dead­ly than the flu if it turns out that many more peo­ple have been exposed to the virus than we real­ize. That’s all still yet to be deter­mined. But at this point the Trump admin­is­tra­tion appears to have decid­ed that very good news is the only allow­able news. Which is incred­i­bly bad news.

    In relat­ed news, it turns out the Trump admin­is­tra­tion end­ed the “Pre­dict” pro­gram back in Octo­ber. That pro­gram was set up in 2005 fol­low­ing the H5N1 bird flu scare to track and research exot­ic dis­eases around the world. The pro­gram had dis­cov­ered near­ly 1000 nov­el virus­es, includ­ed a new Ebo­la virus. And while some of the aspects of pro­gram will be switched to dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment agen­cies, the core part of the pro­gram of bet­ter under­stand­ing virus­es in ani­mals was end­ed entire­ly. And if any­one brings up that Trump end­ed this pro­gram like a month before the coro­n­avirus emerged it means they’re part of the deep state and out to get Trump.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 27, 2020, 3:33 pm
  2. Here’s a set of arti­cles that describe the kind of cut­ting-edge work glob­al dis­ease experts have been using to both study and pre­dict the kinds viral pan­demics like the cur­rent COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and the push to nor­mal­ize the cre­ation man-made nov­el virus­es as a means of study­ing and pre­vent­ing emerg­ing dis­eases: First, here’s an arti­cle that points out that the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the COVID-19 dis­ease, cre­at­ed by the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus, hap­pen to have a remark­able over­lap with a hypo­thet­i­cal dis­ease, dubbed “Dis­ease X” at the time, the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO) actu­al­ly warned back in ear­ly 2018 that the world would might have to even­tu­al­ly deal with. One of the most alarm­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics they gave to “Dis­ease X” that appears to be shared with SARS-CoV­‑2 is the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly morph from a mild to dead­ly dis­ease. These sud­den turns towards a rapid­ly dead­ly dis­ease appears to be due, in part, to an over­ly aggres­sive immune response that ends up rav­aging the lungs. As one expert points out, this is the same pat­tern seen in the 1918 “Span­ish flu” pan­dem­ic. So the WHO warned a cou­ple years ago about a hypo­thet­i­cal “Dis­ease X” dis­ease that was high­ly con­ta­gious with the abil­i­ty to spread with asymp­to­mati­cal­ly, is mild in most cas­es but with the abil­i­ty to sud­den­ly turn dead­ly. And here we are two years lat­er with a dis­ease that fits that pro­file. It was a pret­ty pre­scient pre­dic­tion:

    Bloomberg

    Coro­n­avirus May Be ‘Dis­ease X’ Health Experts Warned About

    By Jason Gale
    02/22/2020
    Updat­ed

    * Pic­ture is emerg­ing of an unpre­dictable, enig­mat­ic pathogen
    * SARS-like lung inflam­ma­tion seen in severe Covid-19 cas­es

    The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion cau­tioned years ago that a mys­te­ri­ous “dis­ease X” could spark an inter­na­tion­al con­ta­gion. The new coro­n­avirus ill­ness, with its abil­i­ty to quick­ly morph from mild to dead­ly, is emerg­ing as a con­tender.

    From recent reports about the stealthy ways the so-called Covid-19 virus spreads and maims, a pic­ture is emerg­ing of an enig­mat­ic pathogen whose effects are main­ly mild, but which occa­sion­al­ly — and unpre­dictably — turns dead­ly in the sec­ond week. In less than three months, it’s infect­ed almost 78,000 peo­ple, most­ly in Chi­na, and killed more than 2,300. Emerg­ing hot spots in South Korea, Iran and Italy have stoked fur­ther alarm.

    “Whether it will be con­tained or not, this out­break is rapid­ly becom­ing the first true pan­dem­ic chal­lenge that fits the dis­ease X cat­e­go­ry,” Mar­i­on Koop­mans, head of viro­science at Eras­mus Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter in Rot­ter­dam, and a mem­ber of the WHO’s emer­gency com­mit­tee, wrote Wednes­day in the jour­nal Cell.

    The dis­ease has now spread to more than two dozen coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries. Some of those infect­ed caught the virus in their local com­mu­ni­ty and have no known link to Chi­na, the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion said.

    “We are not see­ing com­mu­ni­ty spread here in the Unit­ed States yet, but it’s very pos­si­ble — even like­ly — that it may even­tu­al­ly hap­pen,” Nan­cy Mes­son­nier, direc­tor of the CDC’s Nation­al Cen­ter for Immu­niza­tion and Res­pi­ra­to­ry Dis­eases, told reporters Fri­day.

    Unlike SARS, its viral cousin, the Covid-19 virus repli­cates at high con­cen­tra­tions in the nose and throat akin to the com­mon cold, and appears capa­ble of spread­ing from those who show no, or mild, symp­toms. That makes it impos­si­ble to con­trol using the fever-check­ing mea­sures that helped stop SARS 17 years ago.

    Spread­ing Sur­rep­ti­tious­ly

    A clus­ter of cas­es with­in a fam­i­ly liv­ing in the Chi­nese city of Anyang is pre­sumed to have begun when a 20-year-old woman car­ried the virus from Wuhan, the outbreak’s epi­cen­ter, on Jan. 10 and spread it while expe­ri­enc­ing no ill­ness, researchers said Fri­day in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion.

    Five rel­a­tives sub­se­quent­ly devel­oped fever and res­pi­ra­to­ry symp­toms. Covid-19 is less dead­ly than SARS, which had a case fatal­i­ty rate of 9.5%, but appears more con­ta­gious. Both virus­es attack the res­pi­ra­to­ry and gas­troin­testi­nal tracts, via which they can poten­tial­ly spread.

    While more than 80% of patients are report­ed to have a mild ver­sion of the dis­ease and will recov­er, about one in sev­en devel­ops pneu­mo­nia, dif­fi­cul­ty breath­ing and oth­er severe symp­toms. About 5% of patients have crit­i­cal ill­ness, includ­ing res­pi­ra­to­ry fail­ure, sep­tic shock and mul­ti-organ fail­ure.

    “Unlike SARS, Covid-19 infec­tion has a broad­er spec­trum of sever­i­ty rang­ing from asymp­to­matic to mild­ly symp­to­matic to severe ill­ness that requires mechan­i­cal ven­ti­la­tion,” doc­tors in Sin­ga­pore said in a paper in the same med­ical jour­nal Thurs­day. “Clin­i­cal pro­gres­sion of the ill­ness appears sim­i­lar to SARS: patients devel­oped pneu­mo­nia around the end of the first week to the begin­ning of the sec­ond week of ill­ness.”

    Unpre­dictable Ill­ness

    Old­er adults, espe­cial­ly those with chron­ic con­di­tions, such as hyper­ten­sion and dia­betes, have been found to have a high­er risk of severe ill­ness. Still, “the expe­ri­ence to date in Sin­ga­pore is that patients with­out sig­nif­i­cant co-mor­bid con­di­tions can also devel­op severe ill­ness,” they said.

    Li Wen­liang, the 34-year-old oph­thal­mol­o­gist who was one of the first to warn about the coro­n­avirus in Wuhan, died ear­li­er this month after receiv­ing anti­bod­ies, antivi­rals, antibi­otics, oxy­gen and hav­ing his blood pumped through an arti­fi­cial lung.

    Update: Li Wen­liang is cur­rent­ly in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. His heart report­ed­ly stopped beat­ing at around 21:30. He was then giv­en treat­ment with ECMO(extra-corporeal mem­brane oxy­gena­tion). https://t.co/ljhMSwHBXB
    — Glob­al Times (@globaltimesnews) Feb­ru­ary 6, 2020

    The doc­tor, who was in good health pri­or to his infec­tion, appeared to have a rel­a­tive­ly mild case until his lungs became inflamed, lead­ing to the man’s death two days lat­er, said Lin­fa Wang, who heads the emerg­ing infec­tious dis­ease pro­gram at Duke-Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Sin­ga­pore Med­ical School.

    A sim­i­lar pat­tern of inflam­ma­tion not­ed among Covid-19 patients was observed in those who suc­cumbed to the 1918 “Span­ish flu” pan­dem­ic, said Gre­go­ry A. Poland, the Mary Low­ell Leary emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine, infec­tious dis­eases, and mol­e­c­u­lar phar­ma­col­o­gy and exper­i­men­tal ther­a­peu­tics at the Mayo Clin­ic in Rochester, Min­neso­ta.

    “When­ev­er, you have an infec­tion, you have a bat­tle going on,” Poland said in a phone inter­view Thurs­day. “And that bat­tle is a bat­tle between the dam­age that the virus is doing, and the dam­age the body can do when it tries to fight it off.”

    ...

    ————

    “Coro­n­avirus May Be ‘Dis­ease X’ Health Experts Warned About” By Jason Gale; Bloomberg; 02/22/2020

    “The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion cau­tioned years ago that a mys­te­ri­ous “dis­ease X” could spark an inter­na­tion­al con­ta­gion. The new coro­n­avirus ill­ness, with its abil­i­ty to quick­ly morph from mild to dead­ly, is emerg­ing as a con­tender.

    Yep, the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus that caus­es COVID-19 sure fits the “Dis­ease X” descrip­tion: It spreads asymp­to­mati­cal­ly and is mild in most cas­es but dead­ly in a few. And when it becomes dead­ly it can be very sud­den:

    ...
    From recent reports about the stealthy ways the so-called Covid-19 virus spreads and maims, a pic­ture is emerg­ing of an enig­mat­ic pathogen whose effects are main­ly mild, but which occa­sion­al­ly — and unpre­dictably — turns dead­ly in the sec­ond week. In less than three months, it’s infect­ed almost 78,000 peo­ple, most­ly in Chi­na, and killed more than 2,300. Emerg­ing hot spots in South Korea, Iran and Italy have stoked fur­ther alarm.

    “Whether it will be con­tained or not, this out­break is rapid­ly becom­ing the first true pan­dem­ic chal­lenge that fits the dis­ease X cat­e­go­ry,” Mar­i­on Koop­mans, head of viro­science at Eras­mus Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter in Rot­ter­dam, and a mem­ber of the WHO’s emer­gency com­mit­tee, wrote Wednes­day in the jour­nal Cell.

    ...

    Unlike SARS, its viral cousin, the Covid-19 virus repli­cates at high con­cen­tra­tions in the nose and throat akin to the com­mon cold, and appears capa­ble of spread­ing from those who show no, or mild, symp­toms. That makes it impos­si­ble to con­trol using the fever-check­ing mea­sures that helped stop SARS 17 years ago.

    ...

    While more than 80% of patients are report­ed to have a mild ver­sion of the dis­ease and will recov­er, about one in sev­en devel­ops pneu­mo­nia, dif­fi­cul­ty breath­ing and oth­er severe symp­toms. About 5% of patients have crit­i­cal ill­ness, includ­ing res­pi­ra­to­ry fail­ure, sep­tic shock and mul­ti-organ fail­ure.
    ...

    And that sud­den dead­li­ness appears to be relat­ed to an immune sys­tem over-response that ends up destroy­ing the lungs. Eeri­ly, it’s a pat­tern of inflam­ma­tion-based dead­li­ness that was observed dur­ing the “Span­ish flu” pan­dem­ic of 1918:

    ...
    Old­er adults, espe­cial­ly those with chron­ic con­di­tions, such as hyper­ten­sion and dia­betes, have been found to have a high­er risk of severe ill­ness. Still, “the expe­ri­ence to date in Sin­ga­pore is that patients with­out sig­nif­i­cant co-mor­bid con­di­tions can also devel­op severe ill­ness,” they said.

    Li Wen­liang, the 34-year-old oph­thal­mol­o­gist who was one of the first to warn about the coro­n­avirus in Wuhan, died ear­li­er this month after receiv­ing anti­bod­ies, antivi­rals, antibi­otics, oxy­gen and hav­ing his blood pumped through an arti­fi­cial lung.

    Update: Li Wen­liang is cur­rent­ly in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. His heart report­ed­ly stopped beat­ing at around 21:30. He was then giv­en treat­ment with ECMO(extra-corporeal mem­brane oxy­gena­tion). https://t.co/ljhMSwHBXB
    — Glob­al Times (@globaltimesnews) Feb­ru­ary 6, 2020

    The doc­tor, who was in good health pri­or to his infec­tion, appeared to have a rel­a­tive­ly mild case until his lungs became inflamed, lead­ing to the man’s death two days lat­er, said Lin­fa Wang, who heads the emerg­ing infec­tious dis­ease pro­gram at Duke-Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Sin­ga­pore Med­ical School.

    A sim­i­lar pat­tern of inflam­ma­tion not­ed among Covid-19 patients was observed in those who suc­cumbed to the 1918 “Span­ish flu” pan­dem­ic, said Gre­go­ry A. Poland, the Mary Low­ell Leary emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine, infec­tious dis­eases, and mol­e­c­u­lar phar­ma­col­o­gy and exper­i­men­tal ther­a­peu­tics at the Mayo Clin­ic in Rochester, Min­neso­ta.

    “When­ev­er, you have an infec­tion, you have a bat­tle going on,” Poland said in a phone inter­view Thurs­day. “And that bat­tle is a bat­tle between the dam­age that the virus is doing, and the dam­age the body can do when it tries to fight it off.”
    ...

    Ok, now here’s a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Peter Daszak, a dis­ease ecol­o­gist who was one of the experts who worked on the WHO’s “Dis­ease X” project. As Daszak points out, anoth­er fea­ture of the “Dis­ease X” hypo­thet­i­cal dis­ease they pro­posed was that it would shake finan­cial mar­kets even before it achieved pan­dem­ic sta­tus. It’s not an out­landish pre­dic­tion that a dis­ease that has the viral char­ac­ter­is­tics they gave Dis­ease X — asymp­to­matic spread­ing with the poten­tial to sud­den­ly turn dead­ly — giv­en the inher­ent fears asso­ci­at­ed with an unknown dis­ease that demon­strates a wide range of symp­toms with yet-to-be estab­lished case fatal­i­ty rates. But, again, it’s pret­ty pre­scient. As Daszak puts it, “In a nut­shell, Covid-19 is Dis­ease X”. Daszak goes on to crit­i­cize how we approach the chal­lenge of deal­ing with these types of infec­tious dis­eases that we know will even­tu­al­ly emerge even if we don’t know when or where they’re emerge, where we wait for the new dis­ease to emerge and then scram­ble to devel­op vac­cines and treat­ments after the fact. How does Daszak pro­pose we defend against dis­eases that haven’t emerged yet? Well, he calls for actions like set­ting more dis­ease sur­veil­lance work in hot spots where dis­eases are expect­ed to emerge (where humans are encroach­ing into new habi­tats). And he also calls tak­ing a “know they ene­my” approach and dis­cov­er­ing and sequenc­ing as many virus­es as pos­si­ble:

    The New York Times
    Opin­ion

    We Knew Dis­ease X Was Com­ing. It’s Here Now.
    We need to stop what dri­ves mass epi­demics rather than just respond to indi­vid­ual dis­eases.

    By Peter Daszak
    Mr. Daszak is a dis­ease ecol­o­gist.

    Feb. 27, 2020

    In ear­ly 2018, dur­ing a meet­ing at the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion in Gene­va, a group of experts I belong to (the R&D Blue­print) coined the term “Dis­ease X”: We were refer­ring to the next pan­dem­ic, which would be caused by an unknown, nov­el pathogen that hadn’t yet entered the human pop­u­la­tion. As the world stands today on the edge of the pan­dem­ic precipice, it’s worth tak­ing a moment to con­sid­er whether Covid-19 is the dis­ease our group was warn­ing about.

    Dis­ease X, we said back then, would like­ly result from a virus orig­i­nat­ing in ani­mals and would emerge some­where on the plan­et where eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment dri­ves peo­ple and wildlife togeth­er. Dis­ease X would prob­a­bly be con­fused with oth­er dis­eases ear­ly in the out­break and would spread quick­ly and silent­ly; exploit­ing net­works of human trav­el and trade, it would reach mul­ti­ple coun­tries and thwart con­tain­ment. Dis­ease X would have a mor­tal­i­ty rate high­er than a sea­son­al flu but would spread as eas­i­ly as the flu. It would shake finan­cial mar­kets even before it achieved pan­dem­ic sta­tus.

    In a nut­shell, Covid-19 is Dis­ease X.

    ...

    But as the world strug­gles to respond to Covid-19, we risk miss­ing the real­ly big pic­ture: Pan­demics are on the rise, and we need to con­tain the process that dri­ves them, not just the indi­vid­ual dis­eases.

    Plagues are not only part of our cul­ture; they are caused by it. The Black Death spread into Europe in the mid-14th cen­tu­ry with the growth of trade along the Silk Road. New strains of influen­za have emerged from live­stock farm­ing. Ebo­la, SARS, MERS and now Covid-19 have been linked to wildlife. Pan­demics usu­al­ly begin as virus­es in ani­mals that jump to peo­ple when we make con­tact with them.

    These spillovers are increas­ing expo­nen­tial­ly as our eco­log­i­cal foot­print brings us clos­er to wildlife in remote areas and the wildlife trade brings these ani­mals into urban cen­ters. Unprece­dent­ed road-build­ing, defor­esta­tion, land clear­ing and agri­cul­tur­al devel­op­ment, as well as glob­al­ized trav­el and trade, make us supreme­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to pathogens like coro­n­avirus­es.

    Yet the world’s strat­e­gy for deal­ing with pan­demics is woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate. Across the board, from politi­cians to the pub­lic, we treat pan­demics as a dis­as­ter-response issue: We wait for them to hap­pen and hope a vac­cine or drug can be devel­oped quick­ly in their after­math. But even as Covid-19 rages, there still is no vac­cine avail­able for the SARS virus of 2002–3, nor for HIV/AIDS or Zika or a host of emerg­ing pathogens. The prob­lem is that between out­breaks, the will to spend mon­ey on pre­ven­tion wanes, and the mar­ket for vac­cines and drugs against spo­radic viral dis­eases isn’t enough to dri­ve research and devel­op­ment.

    Dur­ing its World Health Assem­bly in 2016, the W.H.O. set up the R&D Blue­print to bridge this gap and announced a pri­or­i­ty list of pathogens that most threat­en glob­al health and for which no vac­cines or drugs were in the pipeline. SARS made the list, as did MERS, Nipah, Ebo­la and oth­er rare but seri­ous dis­eases caused by epi­dem­ic virus­es. The Coali­tion for Epi­dem­ic Pre­pared­ness Inno­va­tions — a glob­al part­ner­ship between pub­lic, pri­vate, phil­an­thropic and civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions launched at Davos in 2017 — stepped up to the plate and sourced fund­ing to devel­op vac­cines and ther­a­peu­tics against some of these.

    To escape from the Age of Pan­demics, we’ll need to treat them as a pub­lic health issue and start work­ing on pre­ven­tion in addi­tion to respons­es. Our first goal should be to broad­en our armory against poten­tial mass epi­demics. When some of us added “Dis­ease X” to the W.H.O.’s pri­or­i­ty list two years ago, we want­ed to make the point that it’s not suf­fi­cient to devel­op vac­cines and drugs for known agents when the next big one is like­ly to be a dif­fer­ent pathogen — a virus close to SARS, say, but not close enough that the same vac­cine can work against both.

    As Covid-19 strikes today and a spate of oth­er pathogens are ready to emerge in the future, we con­tin­ue to butt up against nature. Sci­en­tists esti­mate that there are 1.67 mil­lion unknown virus­es of the type that have pre­vi­ous­ly emerged in peo­ple. Dis­cov­er­ing and sequenc­ing them should be a pri­or­i­ty — a sim­ple case of “know your ene­my.” In the after­math of SARS, research on coro­n­avirus­es orig­i­nat­ing in bats has dis­cov­ered more than 50 relat­ed virus­es, some of which have the poten­tial to infect peo­ple; this infor­ma­tion can now be used to test for broad-action vac­cines and drugs. Scal­ing up this effort to cov­er all viral fam­i­lies, as the Glob­al Virome Project pro­pos­es to do, is a log­i­cal first step toward pre­ven­tion.

    A rad­i­cal shift is also need­ed in the way that tests, vac­cines and drugs are designed so that entire groups of pathogens are tar­get­ed instead of indi­vid­ual pathogens that are already known. The Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases in the Unit­ed States is work­ing on a uni­ver­sal flu vac­cine that would cov­er all known strains of influen­za; a uni­ver­sal coro­n­avirus vac­cine, an Ebo­la-virus vac­cine and oth­ers will also be need­ed.

    With a small­er invest­ment, we can also try to get ahead of pan­demics by work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties in hot spots of emerg­ing dis­eases. Dis­ease sur­veil­lance should be focused on farm­ers, rur­al com­mu­ni­ties and any­one who has exten­sive con­tact with wildlife, to look for unusu­al ill­ness­es, test for nov­el pathogens and work with peo­ple to devel­op alter­na­tives to high-risk activ­i­ties such as the wildlife trade.

    Pan­demics are like ter­ror­ist attacks: We know rough­ly where they orig­i­nate and what’s respon­si­ble for them, but we don’t know exact­ly when the next one will hap­pen. They need to be han­dled the same way — by iden­ti­fy­ing all pos­si­ble sources and dis­man­tling those before the next pan­dem­ic strikes.

    ———–

    “We Knew Dis­ease X Was Com­ing. It’s Here Now.” by Peter Daszak; The New York Times; 02/27/2020

    “Dis­ease X, we said back then, would like­ly result from a virus orig­i­nat­ing in ani­mals and would emerge some­where on the plan­et where eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment dri­ves peo­ple and wildlife togeth­er. Dis­ease X would prob­a­bly be con­fused with oth­er dis­eases ear­ly in the out­break and would spread quick­ly and silent­ly; exploit­ing net­works of human trav­el and trade, it would reach mul­ti­ple coun­tries and thwart con­tain­ment. Dis­ease X would have a mor­tal­i­ty rate high­er than a sea­son­al flu but would spread as eas­i­ly as the flu. It would shake finan­cial mar­kets even before it achieved pan­dem­ic sta­tus.

    While the out­break of COVID-19 osten­si­bly is a sur­prise we can’t say it was entire­ly sur­pris­ing. The WHO’s “R&D Blue­print” work­ing group pre­dict­ed almost some­thing exact­ly like it just two years ago, down to the mas­sive hit to the glob­al finan­cial mar­kets. But Peter Daszak is rec­om­mend­ing that the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty go far beyond pre­dict­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tics of future pan­dem­ic virus­es. He’s call­ing for shift­ing from a reac­tionary approach to pan­dem­ic to a pre­ven­tive approach. And at the core of that effort is the mass dis­cov­ery sequenc­ing of nov­el virus:

    ...
    Yet the world’s strat­e­gy for deal­ing with pan­demics is woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate. Across the board, from politi­cians to the pub­lic, we treat pan­demics as a dis­as­ter-response issue: We wait for them to hap­pen and hope a vac­cine or drug can be devel­oped quick­ly in their after­math. But even as Covid-19 rages, there still is no vac­cine avail­able for the SARS virus of 2002–3, nor for HIV/AIDS or Zika or a host of emerg­ing pathogens. The prob­lem is that between out­breaks, the will to spend mon­ey on pre­ven­tion wanes, and the mar­ket for vac­cines and drugs against spo­radic viral dis­eases isn’t enough to dri­ve research and devel­op­ment.

    ...

    To escape from the Age of Pan­demics, we’ll need to treat them as a pub­lic health issue and start work­ing on pre­ven­tion in addi­tion to respons­es. Our first goal should be to broad­en our armory against poten­tial mass epi­demics. When some of us added “Dis­ease X” to the W.H.O.’s pri­or­i­ty list two years ago, we want­ed to make the point that it’s not suf­fi­cient to devel­op vac­cines and drugs for known agents when the next big one is like­ly to be a dif­fer­ent pathogen — a virus close to SARS, say, but not close enough that the same vac­cine can work against both.

    As Covid-19 strikes today and a spate of oth­er pathogens are ready to emerge in the future, we con­tin­ue to butt up against nature. Sci­en­tists esti­mate that there are 1.67 mil­lion unknown virus­es of the type that have pre­vi­ous­ly emerged in peo­ple. Dis­cov­er­ing and sequenc­ing them should be a pri­or­i­ty — a sim­ple case of “know your ene­my.” In the after­math of SARS, research on coro­n­avirus­es orig­i­nat­ing in bats has dis­cov­ered more than 50 relat­ed virus­es, some of which have the poten­tial to infect peo­ple; this infor­ma­tion can now be used to test for broad-action vac­cines and drugs. Scal­ing up this effort to cov­er all viral fam­i­lies, as the Glob­al Virome Project pro­pos­es to do, is a log­i­cal first step toward pre­ven­tion.
    ...

    And that rec­om­men­da­tion for find­ing and sequenc­ing nov­el virus­es rais­es a num­ber of ques­tions in the con­text the con­tro­ver­sial call for “gain-of-func­tions” exper­i­ments to cre­ate man-made virus­es — like the noto­ri­ous H5N1 exper­i­ment on fer­rets — under the premise that we can then study how they work and devel­op treat­ments. Because it kind of sounds like that’s what Daszak is hint­ing at: gen­er­at­ing a giant library of virus­es, includ­ing man-made virus­es, as a core part of our plan to have vac­cines and oth­er treat­ments ready for nov­el virus­es when they emerge.

    That brings us to a 2015 arti­cle in The Sci­en­tist about a man-made coro­n­avirus devel­oped by Ralph Bar­ic’s lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill that includes a state­ment by Daszak that appears to be sup­port­ive of this approach of using man-made virus­es to study poten­tial emerg­ing dis­eases. Unlike the “gain-of-func­tion” exper­i­ments on fer­rets, which basi­cal­ly sped up nat­ur­al evo­lu­tion­ary process­es, this 2015 exper­i­ment involved direct­ly genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer­ing a coro­n­avirus. The virus was basi­cal­ly a ver­sion of the SARS coro­n­avirus that infects mice with a sur­face pro­tein from the SHC014 coro­n­avirus, found in horse­shoe bats in Chi­na, and demon­strat­ed that the addi­tion SHC014 sur­face pro­tein allowed this mouse SARS virus to infect humans. Keep in mind that, while the Pan­golin is thought to be the ani­mal that the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus jump from to humans, that remains incon­clu­sive and that the virus­es is genet­i­cal­ly most close­ly relat­ed to a bat coro­n­avirus.

    The 2015 exper­i­ment was allowed to take place to despite the mora­to­ri­um on such research that was put in place in Octo­ber of 2013 because the study had been start­ed before the mora­to­ri­um was put in place. The project was reviewed by the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) and deter­mined to not fall under the new restric­tions. But as the arti­cle notes, there were still a num­ber of sci­en­tists who felt the exper­i­ments were unnec­es­sar­i­ly dan­ger­ous. Peter Daszak is cit­ed as hold­ing the oppo­site view and being sup­port­ive of the research. Giv­en Dasza­k’s cur­rent calls for cre­at­ing a glob­al cat­a­log of as many virus­es as pos­si­ble and his 2015 sup­port for man-made genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered virus­es, it seems like­ly that we’re going to be hear­ing a lot more overt calls for aggres­sive­ly pur­su­ing this approach to deal­ing with future pan­demics as this cur­rent pan­dem­ic plays out:

    The Sci­en­tist

    Lab-Made Coro­n­avirus Trig­gers Debate
    The cre­ation of a chimeric SARS-like virus has sci­en­tists dis­cussing the risks of gain-of-func­tion research.

    Jef Akst
    Nov 16, 2015

    Ralph Bar­ic, an infec­tious-dis­ease researcher at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill, last week (Novem­ber 9) pub­lished a study on his team’s efforts to engi­neer a virus with the sur­face pro­tein of the SHC014 coro­n­avirus, found in horse­shoe bats in Chi­na, and the back­bone of one that caus­es human-like severe acute res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (SARS) in mice. The hybrid virus could infect human air­way cells and caused dis­ease in mice, accord­ing to the team’s results, which were pub­lished in Nature Med­i­cine.

    The results demon­strate the abil­i­ty of the SHC014 sur­face pro­tein to bind and infect human cells, val­i­dat­ing con­cerns that this virus—or oth­er coro­n­avirus­es found in bat species—may be capa­ble of mak­ing the leap to peo­ple with­out first evolv­ing in an inter­me­di­ate host, Nature report­ed. They also reignite a debate about whether that infor­ma­tion jus­ti­fies the risk of such work, known as gain-of-func­tion research. “If the [new] virus escaped, nobody could pre­dict the tra­jec­to­ry,” Simon Wain-Hob­son, a virol­o­gist at the Pas­teur Insti­tute in Paris, told Nature.

    In Octo­ber 2013, the US gov­ern­ment put a stop to all fed­er­al fund­ing for gain-of-func­tion stud­ies, with par­tic­u­lar con­cern ris­ing about influen­za, SARS, and Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (MERS). “NIH [Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health] has fund­ed such stud­ies because they help define the fun­da­men­tal nature of human-pathogen inter­ac­tions, enable the assess­ment of the pan­dem­ic poten­tial of emerg­ing infec­tious agents, and inform pub­lic health and pre­pared­ness efforts,” NIH Direc­tor Fran­cis Collins said in a state­ment at the time. “These stud­ies, how­ev­er, also entail biosafe­ty and biose­cu­ri­ty risks, which need to be under­stood bet­ter.”

    Baric’s study on the SHC014-chimeric coro­n­avirus began before the mora­to­ri­um was announced, and the NIH allowed it to pro­ceed dur­ing a review process, which even­tu­al­ly led to the con­clu­sion that the work did not fall under the new restric­tions, Bar­ic told Nature. But some researchers, like Wain-Hob­son, dis­agree with that deci­sion.

    The debate comes down to how infor­ma­tive the results are. “The only impact of this work is the cre­ation, in a lab, of a new, non-nat­ur­al risk,” Richard Ebright, a mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist and biode­fence expert at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, told Nature.

    But Bar­ic and oth­ers argued the study’s impor­tance. “[The results] move this virus from a can­di­date emerg­ing pathogen to a clear and present dan­ger,” Peter Daszak, pres­i­dent of the Eco­Health Alliance, which sam­ples virus­es from ani­mals and peo­ple in emerg­ing-dis­eases hotspots across the globe, told Nature.

    ———–

    “Lab-Made Coro­n­avirus Trig­gers Debate” by Jef Akst; The Sci­en­tist; 11/16/2015

    The results demon­strate the abil­i­ty of the SHC014 sur­face pro­tein to bind and infect human cells, val­i­dat­ing con­cerns that this virus—or oth­er coro­n­avirus­es found in bat species—may be capa­ble of mak­ing the leap to peo­ple with­out first evolv­ing in an inter­me­di­ate host, Nature report­ed. They also reignite a debate about whether that infor­ma­tion jus­ti­fies the risk of such work, known as gain-of-func­tion research. “If the [new] virus escaped, nobody could pre­dict the tra­jec­to­ry,” Simon Wain-Hob­son, a virol­o­gist at the Pas­teur Insti­tute in Paris, told Nature.”

    Tak­ing the sur­face pro­tein from a bat coro­n­avirus and insert­ing it into a SARS-like virus in mice made it capa­ble of infect­ing human cells. That’s what Bar­ic’s exper­i­ment found, demon­strat­ing how the coro­n­avirus­es can jump to humans. It’s undoubt­ed­ly a use­ful find­ing, but it involved lit­er­al­ly cre­at­ing a nov­el virus capa­ble of infect­ing humans that did­n’t exist before which is an effec­tive way to reignite the debate over whether or not such gain-of-func­tion research should be tak­ing place at all. And we find Peter Daszak com­ing to the defense of this research:

    ...
    The debate comes down to how infor­ma­tive the results are. “The only impact of this work is the cre­ation, in a lab, of a new, non-nat­ur­al risk,” Richard Ebright, a mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist and biode­fence expert at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, told Nature.

    But Bar­ic and oth­ers argued the study’s impor­tance. “[The results] move this virus from a can­di­date emerg­ing pathogen to a clear and present dan­ger,” Peter Daszak, pres­i­dent of the Eco­Health Alliance, which sam­ples virus­es from ani­mals and peo­ple in emerg­ing-dis­eases hotspots across the globe, told Nature.
    ...

    So when we hear calls from Daszak and oth­er to cre­ate giant data­bas­es of viral sequences and pair that with these 2015 defens­es of Bar­ic’s gain-of-func­tion research that sug­gests that the envi­sioned viral data­bas­es will prob­a­bly include quite a few man-made virus­es. And in fact that’s exact­ly what we are hear­ing from Bar­ic and oth­er in the fol­low­ing MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review arti­cle from a cou­ple weeks ago about the rush to sequence the new SARS-CoV­‑2 virus and how the approach of cre­at­ing “live” virus­es from the DNA sequences alone and manip­u­lat­ing those virus­es to learn how they work. As Bar­ic puts it, “This is the future in terms of how the med­ical research com­mu­ni­ty responds to a new threat.”:

    MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review

    Biol­o­gists rush to re-cre­ate the Chi­na coro­n­avirus from its DNA code
    Syn­thet­ic ver­sions of the dead­ly virus could help test treat­ments. But what are the risks when virus­es can be syn­thetized from scratch?

    by Anto­nio Regal­a­do
    Feb 15, 2020

    The world is watch­ing with alarm as Chi­na strug­gles to con­tain a dan­ger­ous new virus, now being called SARS-CoV­‑2. It has quar­an­tined entire cities, and the US has put a blan­ket ban on trav­ellers who’ve been there. Health offi­cials are scram­bling to under­stand how the virus is trans­mit­ted and how to treat patients.

    But in one Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na lab, there’s a dif­fer­ent race. Researchers are try­ing to cre­ate a copy of the virus. From scratch.

    Led by Ralph Bar­ic, an expert in coronaviruses—which get their name from the crown-shaped spike they use to enter human cells—the North Car­oli­na team expects to recre­ate the virus start­ing only from com­put­er read­outs of its genet­ic sequence post­ed online by Chi­nese labs last month.

    The remark­able abil­i­ty to “boot up” virus­es from genet­ic instruc­tions is made pos­si­ble by com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture cus­tom DNA mol­e­cules, such as Inte­grat­ed DNA Tech­nol­o­gy, Twist Bio­science, and Atum. By order­ing the right genes, which cost a few thou­sand dol­lars, and then stitch­ing them togeth­er to cre­ate a copy of the coro­n­avirus genome, it’s pos­si­ble to inject the genet­ic mate­r­i­al into cells and jump-start the virus to life.

    The abil­i­ty to make a lethal virus from mail-order DNA was first demon­strat­ed 20 years ago. It’s enough of a bioter­ror­ism con­cern that com­pa­nies care­ful­ly mon­i­tor who is order­ing which genes. But it’s also an impor­tant way to respond to a sud­den out­break, since syn­thet­ic virus recipes give researchers pow­er­ful ways to study treat­ments, vac­cines, and how muta­tions could make it more dan­ger­ous.

    When a syn­thet­ic virus is bet­ter than the real thing

    Baric’s North Car­oli­na lab, which spe­cial­izes in engi­neer­ing virus­es, has pre­vi­ous­ly butted heads with Wash­ing­ton agen­cies over the work, which has includ­ed syn­the­siz­ing new, nev­er before seen coro­n­avirus­es that can infect mice. In 2014, the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health froze fund­ing to sev­er­al labs, includ­ing Baric’s, over con­cerns that such research was too risky. The fund­ing was lat­er rein­stat­ed.

    For the Chi­na virus, Bar­ic said in a tele­phone inter­view, his team placed an order for match­ing DNA from a man­u­fac­tur­er last month. Their first step was to go online and look at genet­ic sequences of the virus. They then com­pared sev­er­al avail­able sequences, which dif­fer slight­ly, and picked a “con­sen­sus” ver­sion to have man­u­fac­tured.

    Once Bar­ic gets his DNA, some­thing that could take a month, he plans to inject the genet­ic instruc­tions into cells. If things go as planned, the cells should begin mak­ing actu­al infec­tious viral par­ti­cles.

    By rolling their own germs, sci­en­tists can get hold of virus­es even if they can’t obtain them direct­ly from a coun­try, espe­cial­ly one that’s in the grip of an epi­dem­ic. Bar­ic says so far sam­ples of the live virus from patients have not been made wide­ly avail­able from Chi­na. “This is the future in terms of how the med­ical research com­mu­ni­ty responds to a new threat,” says Bar­ic.

    The real virus and the syn­thet­ic one should be basi­cal­ly iden­ti­cal. But with the syn­thet­ic one, “we have a DNA copy that we can go back to over and over and over again, to make genet­i­cal­ly iden­ti­cal virus­es,” says Tim­o­thy Shea­han, a researcher at UNC who works with Bar­ic. Start­ing from these copies, sci­en­tists can remove genes, add oth­ers, and fig­ure out things like what makes the germ spread and how it gains access to human cells. Shea­han wants to try infect­ing mice with the virus and giv­ing them var­i­ous drugs to see what stops it.

    Arti­fi­cial copies may also help sci­en­tists keep up with the outbreak’s unpre­dictable path. “I wor­ry this virus is going to mutate in the course of the epi­dem­ic, and this would allow me to study what effects those muta­tions have,” says Stan­ley Perl­man, a micro­bi­ol­o­gist who works on coro­n­avirus­es at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa. “The syn­thet­ic virus is just a sub­sti­tute for the actu­al virus, but with the DNA clone you can manip­u­late it and find the weak points and devel­op a ther­a­py.”

    Dur­ing past out­breaks, sci­en­tists would have had to wait months or years to get a look at the germ behind an out­break. But with SARS-CoV­‑2 it took only weeks until its genet­ic sequence was post­ed online. Imme­di­ate­ly, some sci­en­tists began ana­lyz­ing the genet­ic data, com­par­ing it to virus­es from bats, snakes and pan­golins; they con­clud­ed it could have begun cir­cu­lat­ing last Novem­ber.

    Biotech com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ments, and uni­ver­si­ties also quick­ly start­ed order­ing phys­i­cal copies of par­tic­u­lar genes found in the virus. DNA man­u­fac­tur­ers say they have been del­uged with orders for virus parts, includ­ing those use­ful for ver­i­fy­ing diag­nos­tic tests and oth­ers need­ed to make poten­tial vac­cines.

    “It’s been a pret­ty dra­mat­ic uptick, start­ing with the pub­li­ca­tion of the genome,” says Adam Clore, tech­ni­cal direc­tor of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy at IDT, based in Iowa, and one of the world’s largest sell­ers of DNA. “It’s high pri­or­i­ty. There are a num­ber of insti­tu­tions that are devot­ing near­ly all their ener­gy work­ing on detec­tion or vac­cines.”

    Still, most researchers need only one or two genes from the virus to car­ry for­ward work on tests and vac­cines. Baric’s lab in North Car­oli­na is the only one in the US known to be try­ing to re-cre­ate the virus com­plete­ly from ordered DNA parts.

    How to keep dead­ly virus­es out of the wrong hands

    It was in the ear­ly 2000s that sci­en­tists first showed that syn­thet­ic DNA strands could be used to “res­ur­rect” virus­es just from their genet­ic code. A team in New York State did it with polio, pro­duc­ing infec­tious mate­r­i­al from DNA they ordered online.

    The tech­nol­o­gy imme­di­ate­ly cre­at­ed bio-weapon wor­ries. What if ter­ror­ists used the tech­nique to res­ur­rect small­pox? That hasn’t hap­pened, but it does mean that scourges like polio, smallpox—and now the Chi­nese coronavirus—cannot now ever be tru­ly wiped out. Researchers at the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) drove that point home in 2005 when they res­ur­rect­ed the influen­za virus that killed tens of mil­lions in 1918–1919.

    To keep the tech­nol­o­gy out of the hands of evil-doers, com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture DNA band­ed togeth­er a few years ago to lim­it access to dan­ger­ous genes. The big US play­ers have all agreed to com­pare incom­ing DNA orders to a data­base of about 60 lethal germs and tox­ins called “select agents” so that only autho­rized labs can ever obtain the DNA need­ed to res­ur­rect them.

    At our request, Bat­telle, a sci­en­tif­ic R&D com­pa­ny whose soft­ware Threat­SEQ can make those com­par­isons, ran the sce­nario of some­one try­ing to order a copy of SARS-CoV­‑2. Accord­ing to Craig Bartling, a senior research sci­en­tist at Bat­telle, the soft­ware flagged both the entire virus, and most of its genes indi­vid­u­al­ly, “at the high­est threat lev­el.” Bartling says the alerts went off because the virus is high­ly sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal SARS, a relat­ed virus that sparked a glob­al out­break start­ing in 2002.

    Research into the new virus is seen as risky enough that man­u­fac­tur­ers of DNA hur­ried last week to meet and for­mu­late a pol­i­cy about who should be able buy com­plete ver­sions of the new germ’s genome. In a state­ment released on Feb­ru­ary 11, the Inter­na­tion­al Gene Syn­the­sis Con­sor­tium, a trade group, struck a cau­tious posi­tion. It said it would treat the new Chi­nese virus as if it were SARS, a germ added to the select agent list in 2012 and whose pos­ses­sion is tight­ly mon­i­tored by the US gov­ern­ment.

    That means any­one who wants a com­plete syn­thet­ic copy of SARS-CoV­‑2 would need to under­go “spe­cif­ic and detailed vet­ting” and prove they are already reg­is­tered by the CDC to work with SARS, as the North Car­oli­na researchers are.

    How­ev­er, com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture DNA still have dis­cre­tion over what they sell and to whom, and not all of them think they should make the whole genome of this virus. Claes Gustaffson, founder and chief com­mer­cial offi­cer of Atum, a DNA sup­pli­er in Cal­i­for­nia, says he’s got­ten orders from eight com­pa­nies for parts of the virus genome and has per­son­al­ly approved a request by a US gov­ern­ment agency to make 90% of its genes—likely to cre­ate an atten­u­at­ed (i.e., harm­less) ver­sion of it.

    “They prob­a­bly want to fig­ure out how to make a vac­cine as quick­ly as pos­si­ble,” says Gustaffson. “But if some­one want­ed the whole thing, I wouldn’t make it. Some things, like polio, you don’t want to make, no mat­ter who is ask­ing.”

    Not every­one thinks syn­the­siz­ing the new coro­n­avirus is par­tic­u­lar­ly dan­ger­ous. “I don’t real­ly see a huge amount of risk,” says Nicholas G. Evans, who stud­ies bio­threats at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts, Low­ell. “Right now, a lot of peo­ple are spend­ing a lot of time on how this coro­n­avirus works. I think the risks are out­weighed by the ben­e­fits.”

    ...

    Scar­ing peo­ple

    For now, only a very few sophis­ti­cat­ed cen­ters can actu­al­ly re-boot a virus; there’s no chance a nut work­ing from a garage could do it. “We are at the point where the best of the best can start to syn­the­size this new virus con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly with the out­break. But that is just a few labs,” says Evans. “For­tu­nate­ly, we are still far from the point when lots of peo­ple can syn­the­size any­thing.”

    The advanced state of syn­thet­ic virus research, and the abil­i­ty to genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer germs, inevitably feeds fears, and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. Social media and some blog sites have been full of ground­less spec­u­la­tion that the new virus was acci­den­tal­ly released from a Chi­nese bioweapon lab locat­ed out­side of Wuhan. There’s no evi­dence that is the case, and sub­stan­tial evi­dence it is not, but the rumor caused a diplo­mat­ic breach with Chi­na after it was repeat­ed in the US Con­gress by a sen­a­tor, Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas.

    Bar­ic says he doesn’t see a par­tic­u­lar dan­ger to syn­the­siz­ing the new virus at this stage of the out­break, espe­cial­ly because the virus is still cir­cu­lat­ing in the wild. The impor­tant thing is to fig­ure out what it does and stop it. “Whether you get it from a cell or syn­the­size it, it ends up the same thing,” says Bar­ic.

    ————-

    “Biol­o­gists rush to re-cre­ate the Chi­na coro­n­avirus from its DNA code” by Anto­nio Regal­a­do; MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review; 02/15/2020

    “Led by Ralph Bar­ic, an expert in coronaviruses—which get their name from the crown-shaped spike they use to enter human cells—the North Car­oli­na team expects to recre­ate the virus start­ing only from com­put­er read­outs of its genet­ic sequence post­ed online by Chi­nese labs last month.”

    Ralph Bar­ic’s team is going to recre­ate the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus from scratch using just the DNA sequence. And this virus will be live if they do it right and able to infect cell. That’s the future of med­ical research in the face of new viral threats: get the sequence and send­ing that sequence to researchers around the world so they can begin their research and not have to wait months or years to get a look at the germ like they’ve had to wait in the past:

    ...
    The remark­able abil­i­ty to “boot up” virus­es from genet­ic instruc­tions is made pos­si­ble by com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture cus­tom DNA mol­e­cules, such as Inte­grat­ed DNA Tech­nol­o­gy, Twist Bio­science, and Atum. By order­ing the right genes, which cost a few thou­sand dol­lars, and then stitch­ing them togeth­er to cre­ate a copy of the coro­n­avirus genome, it’s pos­si­ble to inject the genet­ic mate­r­i­al into cells and jump-start the virus to life.

    The abil­i­ty to make a lethal virus from mail-order DNA was first demon­strat­ed 20 years ago. It’s enough of a bioter­ror­ism con­cern that com­pa­nies care­ful­ly mon­i­tor who is order­ing which genes. But it’s also an impor­tant way to respond to a sud­den out­break, since syn­thet­ic virus recipes give researchers pow­er­ful ways to study treat­ments, vac­cines, and how muta­tions could make it more dan­ger­ous.

    When a syn­thet­ic virus is bet­ter than the real thing

    ...

    For the Chi­na virus, Bar­ic said in a tele­phone inter­view, his team placed an order for match­ing DNA from a man­u­fac­tur­er last month. Their first step was to go online and look at genet­ic sequences of the virus. They then com­pared sev­er­al avail­able sequences, which dif­fer slight­ly, and picked a “con­sen­sus” ver­sion to have man­u­fac­tured.

    Once Bar­ic gets his DNA, some­thing that could take a month, he plans to inject the genet­ic instruc­tions into cells. If things go as planned, the cells should begin mak­ing actu­al infec­tious viral par­ti­cles.

    By rolling their own germs, sci­en­tists can get hold of virus­es even if they can’t obtain them direct­ly from a coun­try, espe­cial­ly one that’s in the grip of an epi­dem­ic. Bar­ic says so far sam­ples of the live virus from patients have not been made wide­ly avail­able from Chi­na. “This is the future in terms of how the med­ical research com­mu­ni­ty responds to a new threat,” says Bar­ic.

    ...

    Dur­ing past out­breaks, sci­en­tists would have had to wait months or years to get a look at the germ behind an out­break. But with SARS-CoV­‑2 it took only weeks until its genet­ic sequence was post­ed online. Imme­di­ate­ly, some sci­en­tists began ana­lyz­ing the genet­ic data, com­par­ing it to virus­es from bats, snakes and pan­golins; they con­clud­ed it could have begun cir­cu­lat­ing last Novem­ber.
    ...

    And Bar­ic’s lab is far from alone. The com­pa­nies that gen­er­ate made-to-order DNA sequences are say­ing they’ve been del­uged with orders fro the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus. Although in most cas­es only a cou­ple genes from the virus are required to do the kind of research need­ed to devel­op a vac­cine. Bar­ic’s lab in the only lab in the US known to be try­ing to recre­ate the entire virus:

    ...
    Biotech com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ments, and uni­ver­si­ties also quick­ly start­ed order­ing phys­i­cal copies of par­tic­u­lar genes found in the virus. DNA man­u­fac­tur­ers say they have been del­uged with orders for virus parts, includ­ing those use­ful for ver­i­fy­ing diag­nos­tic tests and oth­ers need­ed to make poten­tial vac­cines.

    “It’s been a pret­ty dra­mat­ic uptick, start­ing with the pub­li­ca­tion of the genome,” says Adam Clore, tech­ni­cal direc­tor of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy at IDT, based in Iowa, and one of the world’s largest sell­ers of DNA. “It’s high pri­or­i­ty. There are a num­ber of insti­tu­tions that are devot­ing near­ly all their ener­gy work­ing on detec­tion or vac­cines.”

    Still, most researchers need only one or two genes from the virus to car­ry for­ward work on tests and vac­cines. Baric’s lab in North Car­oli­na is the only one in the US known to be try­ing to re-cre­ate the virus com­plete­ly from ordered DNA parts.
    ...

    But while these biotech advances and the abil­i­ty to order made-to-order DNA sequences is clear­ly going to be extreme­ly use­ful for researchers, espe­cial­ly when time is of the essence, we can’t ignore the real­i­ty that the exis­tence of cat­a­logs of viral sequences and a mar­ket­place for recre­at­ing those virus­es also makes it eas­i­er then ever for bad actors to get their hands on these virus­es too. As the arti­cle notes, researchers at the CD actu­al­ly recre­at­ed a live ver­sion of the Span­ish Flu in 2005 using these same tech­niques. So how is the indus­try deal­ing with these risks? Well, it sounds like the com­pa­nies have got­ten togeth­er and agreed to lim­it access to dan­ger­ous genes. The big US com­pa­nies have a data­base of about 60 lethal germs and tox­ins called “select agents” and only autho­rized labs can order them. But as the arti­cle notes, com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture DNA still have dis­cre­tion over what they sell and to whom. And while that might mean com­pa­nies can refuse to ful­fill DNA orders if they choose to, it rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not rogue com­pa­nies could just go ahead and sell what­ev­er to whomev­er if they choose too. Over­all, it sounds like we’re all basi­cal­ly hop­ing all of the actors in this indus­try act respon­si­bly:

    ...
    How to keep dead­ly virus­es out of the wrong hands

    It was in the ear­ly 2000s that sci­en­tists first showed that syn­thet­ic DNA strands could be used to “res­ur­rect” virus­es just from their genet­ic code. A team in New York State did it with polio, pro­duc­ing infec­tious mate­r­i­al from DNA they ordered online.

    The tech­nol­o­gy imme­di­ate­ly cre­at­ed bio-weapon wor­ries. What if ter­ror­ists used the tech­nique to res­ur­rect small­pox? That hasn’t hap­pened, but it does mean that scourges like polio, smallpox—and now the Chi­nese coronavirus—cannot now ever be tru­ly wiped out. Researchers at the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) drove that point home in 2005 when they res­ur­rect­ed the influen­za virus that killed tens of mil­lions in 1918–1919.

    To keep the tech­nol­o­gy out of the hands of evil-doers, com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture DNA band­ed togeth­er a few years ago to lim­it access to dan­ger­ous genes. The big US play­ers have all agreed to com­pare incom­ing DNA orders to a data­base of about 60 lethal germs and tox­ins called “select agents” so that only autho­rized labs can ever obtain the DNA need­ed to res­ur­rect them.

    At our request, Bat­telle, a sci­en­tif­ic R&D com­pa­ny whose soft­ware Threat­SEQ can make those com­par­isons, ran the sce­nario of some­one try­ing to order a copy of SARS-CoV­‑2. Accord­ing to Craig Bartling, a senior research sci­en­tist at Bat­telle, the soft­ware flagged both the entire virus, and most of its genes indi­vid­u­al­ly, “at the high­est threat lev­el.” Bartling says the alerts went off because the virus is high­ly sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal SARS, a relat­ed virus that sparked a glob­al out­break start­ing in 2002.

    Research into the new virus is seen as risky enough that man­u­fac­tur­ers of DNA hur­ried last week to meet and for­mu­late a pol­i­cy about who should be able buy com­plete ver­sions of the new germ’s genome. In a state­ment released on Feb­ru­ary 11, the Inter­na­tion­al Gene Syn­the­sis Con­sor­tium, a trade group, struck a cau­tious posi­tion. It said it would treat the new Chi­nese virus as if it were SARS, a germ added to the select agent list in 2012 and whose pos­ses­sion is tight­ly mon­i­tored by the US gov­ern­ment.

    That means any­one who wants a com­plete syn­thet­ic copy of SARS-CoV­‑2 would need to under­go “spe­cif­ic and detailed vet­ting” and prove they are already reg­is­tered by the CDC to work with SARS, as the North Car­oli­na researchers are.

    How­ev­er, com­pa­nies that man­u­fac­ture DNA still have dis­cre­tion over what they sell and to whom, and not all of them think they should make the whole genome of this virus. Claes Gustaffson, founder and chief com­mer­cial offi­cer of Atum, a DNA sup­pli­er in Cal­i­for­nia, says he’s got­ten orders from eight com­pa­nies for parts of the virus genome and has per­son­al­ly approved a request by a US gov­ern­ment agency to make 90% of its genes—likely to cre­ate an atten­u­at­ed (i.e., harm­less) ver­sion of it.

    “They prob­a­bly want to fig­ure out how to make a vac­cine as quick­ly as pos­si­ble,” says Gustaffson. “But if some­one want­ed the whole thing, I wouldn’t make it. Some things, like polio, you don’t want to make, no mat­ter who is ask­ing.”
    ...

    And yet we are assured that only a very few sophis­ti­cat­ed cen­ters actu­al­ly have the abil­i­ty re-boot a live virus from scratch like Bar­ic’s lab has done. As we are assured, “For­tu­nate­ly, we are still far from the point when lots of peo­ple can syn­the­size any­thing”:

    ...
    Scar­ing peo­ple

    For now, only a very few sophis­ti­cat­ed cen­ters can actu­al­ly re-boot a virus; there’s no chance a nut work­ing from a garage could do it. “We are at the point where the best of the best can start to syn­the­size this new virus con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly with the out­break. But that is just a few labs,” says Evans. “For­tu­nate­ly, we are still far from the point when lots of peo­ple can syn­the­size any­thing.”

    The advanced state of syn­thet­ic virus research, and the abil­i­ty to genet­i­cal­ly engi­neer germs, inevitably feeds fears, and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. Social media and some blog sites have been full of ground­less spec­u­la­tion that the new virus was acci­den­tal­ly released from a Chi­nese bioweapon lab locat­ed out­side of Wuhan. There’s no evi­dence that is the case, and sub­stan­tial evi­dence it is not, but the rumor caused a diplo­mat­ic breach with Chi­na after it was repeat­ed in the US Con­gress by a sen­a­tor, Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas.

    Bar­ic says he doesn’t see a par­tic­u­lar dan­ger to syn­the­siz­ing the new virus at this stage of the out­break, espe­cial­ly because the virus is still cir­cu­lat­ing in the wild. The impor­tant thing is to fig­ure out what it does and stop it. “Whether you get it from a cell or syn­the­size it, it ends up the same thing,” says Bar­ic.
    ...

    And while that may be true at the moment, it’s kind of hard to imag­ine that’s going to remain true in com­ing decades. And if we do go ahead and gen­er­ate cre­ate giant virus sequence data­bas­es as Peter Daszak pro­posed in his NY Times piece, isn’t that entire cat­a­log going to be avail­able to damn near any­one once the tech­nol­o­gy advances to the point where almost any­one can cheap­ly gen­er­ate their own DNA sequences? What’s going to stop the nut work­ing from a garage in 2050?

    So we appear to be mov­ing into a par­a­digm for address­ing emerg­ing virus­es by pre­dict­ing those virus­es and pre­emp­tive­ly devel­op­ing treat­ments for them. It will be a pret­ty great par­a­digm if it works. Hav­ing a mas­sive pre­emp­tive arse­nal of treat­ments would be very help­ful dur­ing sit­u­a­tions like this. But it’s hard to ignore that the cre­ation of this mas­sive pre­emp­tive arse­nal of treat­ments implic­it­ly involves the cre­ation of a mas­sive arse­nal of virus­es in the first place. And it’s pre­sum­ably eas­i­er to find a nasty virus than find a treat­ment for it. In oth­er words, a cost of cre­at­ing the pre­emp­tive arse­nal of treat­ments might be the cre­ation of a much larg­er of untreat­able virus­es first that would make for the per­fect arse­nal for bioter­ror­ists.

    But while the ques­tion of whether or not we should be cre­at­ing giant viral sequence data­bas­es and gen­er­at­ing potent man-made virus­es is an impor­tant ques­tion that hast to be answered, there’s no deny­ing that the tech­nol­o­gy for devel­op­ing weaponized virus­es is only going to be get­ting bet­ter and cheap­er and avail­able to more and more bad actors as sci­ence tech­nol­o­gy inevitably advances. That’s just built into the fab­ric of the struc­ture of life on earth. Virus­es are basi­cal­ly the sim­plest form of life, if we choose to define them as a life form. They’re inher­ent­ly rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple to cre­ate and can have dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences. No pol­i­cy deci­sions can change that, although poli­cies that min­i­mize human encroach­ment into new habi­tats would cer­tain­ly help avoid new nat­ur­al virus­es from emerg­ing. But no pol­i­cy deci­sions can change the inher­ent abil­i­ty to cheap­ly cre­ate weaponized virus­es. That’s just built into how life works.

    It’s all a reminder that, while evolv­ing and man-made super-virus­es is going to be a grow­ing con­cern as we go for­ward, the lack of the evo­lu­tion of human thought and moral­i­ty is still the great­est threat we face. The fact that there are so many extrem­ist move­ments around the world that would jump at the chance to use a weaponized virus is the ulti­mate indict­ment of human­i­ty today and the pri­ma­ry chal­lenge we face going for­ward. The real­i­ty is that as human knowl­edge and capa­bil­i­ties advance it’s going to be eas­i­er and eas­i­er for a shrink­ing num­ber of evil peo­ple to car­ry out hor­rif­ic acts, like releas­ing a weaponized virus. That’s just how tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment goes. It’s not hard to imag­ine a future where a sin­gle warped indi­vid­ual will have at their dis­pos­al the tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate and dis­sem­i­nate engi­neered virus­es, or advanced future nuclear weapons or who knows what else. Humans are going to devel­op more and more real pow­er in the form of sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment and that’s going to extrem­ists of all stripes. How do we raise gen­er­a­tions of humans that aren’t mali­cious clue­less, self­ish and insane? That’s the grand chal­lenge we face and the risk of syn­thet­ic weaponized virus­es is just one part of that chal­lenge. It’s part of what makes the pro­pos­al to cre­ate a giant virus cat­a­log dif­fi­cult to assess. There’s clear dan­gers to cre­at­ing such a cat­a­log as we enter into an era where rogue nations or orga­ni­za­tions (and even­tu­al­ly nuts on their garages) will be able to pluck those viral sequences from cat­a­logs and spread it around as they choose. Do-it-your­self dooms­day recipes. It’s going to become a thing some­day. But that era is going to arrive whether or not we cre­ate the pro­posed giant cat­a­log of virus­es and con­duct the kind of man-made viral research some are advo­cat­ing. Is it bet­ter to accept that even­tu­al­i­ty of a future where viral dooms­day tech­nol­o­gy is read­i­ly avail­able to the mass­es and just aggres­sive­ly work on pre­emp­tive­ly devel­op­ing as many treat­ments and vac­cines as pos­si­ble or is it bet­ter to plan in mak­ing access to this kind of infor­ma­tion and tech­nol­o­gy as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble for non-autho­rized indi­vid­u­als to get their hands on now and in the future? It’s a hor­ri­ble set of choic­es in large part because human soci­eties are so adept of gen­er­at­ing the kind of hor­ri­ble peo­ple who would love to abuse this tech­nol­o­gy so fig­ur­ing out how to min­i­mize the num­ber of hor­ri­ble peo­ple in the future has to be part of the solu­tion. Because oth­er­wise those hor­ri­ble peo­ple are going to fig­ure out how to min­i­mize the num­ber of every­one else and it will prob­a­bly involve the use of a weaponized virus. Or two virus­es. Or 1000 dif­fer­ent virus­es. They’ll pre­sum­ably have a big cat­a­log to select from.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 28, 2020, 3:34 pm
  3. @Pterrafractyl–

    Note that, as dis­cussed in FTR #1117, the genet­ic mate­r­i­al from the 1918 flu virus was recov­ered by a team of Army sci­en­tists in 1997.

    https://kfjc.org/player/#61388

    “Genet­ic Mate­r­i­al from 1918 Flu is Found” by Gina Kola­ta; The New York Times; 3/21/1997.

    A group of Defense Depart­ment researchers has found genet­ic mate­r­i­al from the noto­ri­ous Span­ish flu virus that killed at least 20 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide in the influen­za pan­dem­ic of 1918.

    Frag­ments of the virus were found lurk­ing in a formalde­hyde-soaked scrap of lung tis­sue from a 21-year-old sol­dier who died of the flu near­ly 80 years ago. And now, med­ical experts say, inves­ti­ga­tors at last hope to answer a ques­tion that has trou­bled them for decades: what made this virus so dead­ly?

    One part of the answer is that the Span­ish flu virus passed from birds to pigs and then to humans, a mode of trans­mis­sion that is thought to pro­duce the most dan­ger­ous strains of influen­za virus­es. Indeed, fear of a swine flu epi­dem­ic in 1976 caused Pres­i­dent Ger­ald R. Ford to mobi­lize the nation to immu­nize against a flu strain that infect­ed sol­diers at Fort Dix, N.J. That par­tic­u­lar virus, how­ev­er, turned out not to be a threat.

    The search for the 1918 virus is of more than his­tor­i­cal inter­est, said Dr. Jef­frey K. Tauben­berg­er at the Armed Forces Insti­tute of Pathol­o­gy in Wash­ing­ton, the leader of the team whose report is being pub­lished today in the jour­nal Sci­ence. Dr. Tauben­berg­er and oth­er researchers hope that under­stand­ing the genet­ic code of the Span­ish flu virus might help sci­en­tists pre­pare for the next influen­za pan­dem­ic, which many sci­en­tists think is com­ing soon.

    The Span­ish flu epi­dem­ic seems to have begun in the Unit­ed States in late spring and ear­ly sum­mer of 1918, when doc­tors report­ed scat­tered out­breaks in mil­i­tary instal­la­tions where recruits were report­ing for train­ing before going to France.

    By Sep­tem­ber, when schools opened, the epi­dem­ic was roar­ing through the entire pop­u­la­tion and spread­ing rapid­ly to every cor­ner of the world, attack­ing the young and healthy and killing them, often with­in days.

    The flu virus itself is gone, van­ished with the epi­dem­ic. But sci­en­tists have repeat­ed­ly tried to find traces of it, study­ing autop­sy spec­i­mens and even exhum­ing bod­ies buried in Alas­ka where, they hoped, the virus would have remained pre­served.

    Even now, an expe­di­tion is being pro­posed to Spits­ber­gen, a Nor­we­gian arch­i­pel­ago in the Arc­tic Ocean about 400 miles north of Nor­way, to exhume the bod­ies of min­ers who died of the flu.

    An epi­dem­ic like that of 1918 ”can come again, and it will,” said Dr. Robert Web­ster, chair­man of viral and mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gy at St. Jude’s Chil­dren’s Research Hos­pi­tal in Mem­phis.

    Dr. Joshua Leder­berg, a geneti­cist and Nobel lau­re­ate who is pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of Rock­e­feller Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, called influen­za ”the most urgent, patent­ly vis­i­ble, acute threat in the world of emerg­ing infec­tions.” And, Dr. Leder­berg added, ”the soon­er we can learn what to antic­i­pate, the more like­ly we will be able to blunt the next appear­ance” of a dead­ly flu virus.

    Dr. Tauben­berg­er stud­ied spec­i­mens from Span­ish flu vic­tims that are among the mil­lions of autop­sy spec­i­mens that the pathol­o­gy insti­tute has been stor­ing in ware­hous­es since the Civ­il War. But he said he doubt­ed that the study would suc­ceed in light of the dis­mal his­to­ry of failed efforts to find the virus.

    For exam­ple, in the 1950’s, a group of sci­en­tists that includ­ed Dr. Mau­rice R. Hille­man, direc­tor of the Mer­ck Insti­tute in West Point, Pa., who was then direct­ing viral research at the Wal­ter Reed Army Insti­tute in Wash­ing­ton, trav­eled to Nome, Alas­ka, in a secret mis­sion to exam­ine the exhumed bod­ies of Eski­mos who had died of the 1918 flu.

    When Eski­mo flu vic­tims died, Dr. Hille­man said, they were buried in the mid­dle of win­ter, in the frozen ground. The Army thought that these bod­ies, buried in the per­mafrost, might have remained frozen and pre­served. But, Dr. Hille­man said, ”the bod­ies were in such an advanced state of dete­ri­o­ra­tion that no live virus was found.”

    More recent­ly sev­er­al sci­en­tists, includ­ing Dr. Web­ster, exam­ined autop­sy tis­sue from the Armed Forces Insti­tute of Pathol­o­gy but were unable to find virus­es.

    Dr. Tauben­berg­er decid­ed to go ahead any­way. Look­ing in the com­put­er­ized records, he request­ed autop­sy slides of the lungs of 198 sol­diers who died of the Span­ish flu.

    In exam­in­ing the slides, he looked for a par­tic­u­lar type of pathol­o­gy. Since the flu virus stops repli­cat­ing with­in a cou­ple of days after a per­son is infect­ed, Dr. Tauben­berg­er and his team want­ed lung tis­sue from some­one who died quick­ly, with­in a week after becom­ing ill, so that there might still be virus par­ti­cles present.

    That was pos­si­ble, Dr. Tauben­berg­er said, because the 1918 influen­za strain was so dead­ly.

    ”The lungs of some who died in a few days were com­plete­ly filled with flu­ids, as if they had drowned,” he said. ”No one has ever seen that before or since. It was a unique pathol­o­gy.”

    Of the 198 cas­es that Dr. Tauben­berg­er request­ed, 7 met his cri­te­ria. But only one had oth­er fea­tures that led the researchers to believe that the flu virus was active­ly repli­cat­ing when the man died.

    The man was a pri­vate from New York State sta­tioned at Fort Jack­son, S.C., when he caught the flu.

    ”He was a healthy 21-year-old male with no med­ical his­to­ry until he got this,” Dr. Tauben­berg­er said.

    The sol­dier died with­in five days of infec­tion, on Sept. 26, 1918, and in Octo­ber his lung tis­sue was shipped to Wash­ing­ton, where it was stored, undis­turbed, for near­ly 80 years.

    With the sol­dier’s lung tis­sue in hand, the researchers began the tedious process of try­ing to extract the viral genet­ic mate­r­i­al. The virus car­ries its genes in eight pieces of RNA that are pack­aged togeth­er in a pro­tein coat. But over the years of stor­age, the 15,000 nucleotides that make up the viral RNA had bro­ken apart into shards about 200 nucleotides long.

    The researchers spent near­ly two years ampli­fy­ing the tiny seg­ments of viral RNA so that they would have enough to ana­lyze and assem­ble like a jig­saw puz­zle. In their paper in Sci­ence, they report on the sequences of nine frag­ments of the virus that include pieces of its major genes.

    The group has ana­lyzed only about 7 per­cent of the virus, Dr. Tauben­berg­er said, although he expects that he will even­tu­al­ly be able to com­plete the job. Oth­ers, like Dr. Web­ster, agree, but say it is still uncer­tain whether even that will reveal the secret of the virus’s lethal­i­ty.

    But with his pre­lim­i­nary analy­sis, Dr. Tauben­berg­er and his col­leagues have already ruled out two hypothe­ses on why the virus was so dead­ly.

    One was based on an analy­sis of a chick­en influen­za virus that swept through flocks of chick­ens in the ear­ly 1980’s, killing them overnight.

    The chick­en virus was pecu­liar. One of its pro­teins had three basic amino acids at a spot where the host’s enzymes had to break that pro­tein in order for the virus to infect a cell. Ordi­nar­i­ly, there was only one such amino acid at that spot. So, inves­ti­ga­tors thought, maybe the three basic amino acids were a clue to lethal­i­ty, and maybe they were a fea­ture of the Span­ish flu virus.

    But, Dr. Tauben­berg­er found, that was not the case. There was noth­ing unusu­al about the amino acids at that posi­tion in the Span­ish flu virus.

    Anoth­er hypoth­e­sis was that the flu had gone direct­ly from birds to humans. Ordi­nar­i­ly, human flu virus­es spread only in humans, but genet­i­cal­ly dis­tinct flu virus­es also fes­ter, inde­pen­dent­ly, in birds, which do not become ill when they are infect­ed. Occa­sion­al­ly, virus­es from birds infect ani­mals like pigs, and then jump to peo­ple. Even worse, some researchers pro­posed, might be a virus that jumped direct­ly from birds to humans.

    Anti­bod­ies of sur­vivors of the 1918 epi­dem­ic indi­cat­ed that the virus had lived in pigs before infect­ing humans. But the anti­body evi­dence was indi­rect, and some thought it might be incor­rect. The genet­ic analy­sis, how­ev­er, indi­cat­ed that the virus had, indeed, come to humans from pigs.

    ”I can’t hold up one gene frag­ment and say, ‘This is the rea­son,’ ” Dr. Tauben­berg­er said. ”This is the begin­ning of the sto­ry.”

    But it rais­es addi­tion­al ques­tions, the most imme­di­ate of which is whether the planned expe­di­tion to Nor­way should go for­ward.

    The trip was pro­posed by Dr. Kirsty Dun­can, who stud­ies med­i­cine and geog­ra­phy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wind­sor in Ontario. Dr. Dun­can learned that sev­en min­ers who were dig­ging coal in Spits­ber­gen died of the flu in 1918 and were buried there. She and her col­leagues have been work­ing with Dr. Nan­cy Cox, the chief of the influen­za branch at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion in Atlanta, to plan the trip to Nor­way.

    Dr. Dun­can said the team would meet in Atlanta. ”We’ll be debat­ing how to pro­ceed,” she said.

    Dr. Cox said the study of viral RNA from autop­sy spec­i­mens might reveal all of the virus’s secrets.

    The ques­tion, of course, is whether it is worth­while to risk unleash­ing live virus­es that might still be in the frozen tis­sue of the min­ers.

    One won­ders if some of that 1918 flu virus genome made it into the Covid-19, which exhibits some traits of the 1918 flu virus, accord­ing to the first arti­cle you cit­ed.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | February 29, 2020, 4:42 pm
  4. @Dave: The exact sequence of chunks from the Span­ish Flu virus prob­a­bly would­n’t be nec­es­sary to have a virus with a sim­i­lar pat­tern of induc­ing sud­den extreme immune respons­es that end up killing the patients. There are a lot of ways virus­es and immune sys­tems can inter­act to do that. But the gen­er­al ques­tion of whether or not some­thing like that might hap­pen points to one of the big gen­er­al ques­tions regard­ing the applic­a­bil­i­ty of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy tech­niques for biowar­fare pur­pos­es. Ans that’s the ques­tion of the extent to which it will be pos­si­ble to make a syn­thet­ic virus look nat­ur­al. Thus far, we’ve heard about a range of dif­fer­ent types of exper­i­ments. There’s been suc­cess­ful attempts to revive old virus­es like polio or the 1918 “Span­ish Flu”. If some­thing iden­ti­cal to the Span­ish Flu was released it was cer­tain­ly look nat­ur­al for a DNA sequence stand­point but pret­ty unnat­ur­al from a tim­ing stand­point. But could the virus be tweaked in man­ner that does­n’t sig­nif­i­cant­ly change its vir­u­lence but some­how make it look ‘new’ and ’emer­gent’?

    We’ve also heard about suc­cess­ful exper­i­ments involv­ing the cre­ation of straight­for­ward chimera virus­es where the genes are one virus­es are added to anoth­er virus like what Ralph Bar­ic’s lab pub­lished in 2015 when they attached a coro­n­avirus sur­face pro­tein gene from horse­shoe bats to a SARS-like virus that infects mice result­ing in a virus could demon­stra­bly infect human cells. Now if some­thing like that was release it would prob­a­bly stick out as an engi­neered virus sim­ply because the genes in the virus would match the known sequence from a par­tic­u­lar virus of dif­fer­ent virus­es. But that still rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not such a man-made virus could be mod­i­fied in such a way to con­fuse researchers and giv­en it the appears to being nat­ur­al. And it might appear nat­ur­al if you cre­at­ed a chimera from two dif­fer­ent mouse-tar­get­ing virus­es or two horse­shoe bat virus­es. At the end of the day the call on whether or not a virus is man-made or nat­ur­al is going to come to a judge­ment call by experts so if it’s pos­si­ble to give a man-made chimeric viral sequence the look of being nat­ur­al that should be a tech­ni­cal­ly fea­si­ble pro­ce­dure. As we saw, any give sequence of viral DNA is made-to-order with today’s tech­nol­o­gy so it’s just a mat­ter of devel­op­ing a viable ‘nat­ur­al’ look­ing sequence.

    And then there’s the exper­i­ments we heard about from 2011–2012 with fer­rets where the evo­lu­tion of an H5N1 virus was accel­er­at­ed and the virus­es evolved the abil­i­ty to infect the upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract of the fer­rets and spread through the air. That seems like the kind of mod­i­fi­ca­tion that might also appear to be nat­ur­al sim­ply because it was nat­ur­al in a sense. They just sped up the virus’s evo­lu­tion. They did­n’t direct­ly change the sequence them­selves. So that sounds like a tech­nique that could more read­i­ly be used to cre­ate virus­es that get released as ‘nat­ur­al’.

    All that said, we cer­tain­ly can’t rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty this real­ly was a nat­u­ral­ly emerg­ing virus sim­ply because all of the con­di­tions for new nat­u­ral­ly emerg­ing virus­es are in place. Human encroach­ment into new habi­tats is pre­cise­ly that recipe and that means it real­ly is just a mat­ter of time before the new new­ly emerg­ing virus­es pops up some­where in a coun­try like Chi­na with a mas­sive pop­u­la­tion rou­tine­ly get­ting exposed to nov­el exot­ic virus­es. Grant­ed, it’s a hell of a coin­ci­dence that this virus emerged in Chi­na right in the mid­dle what appears to be a West­er-dri­ven psy­cho­log­i­cal and eco­nom­ic desta­bi­liza­tion cam­paign of Chi­na and Hong Kong, but coin­ci­dences are going to hap­pen even when it comes to emerg­ing virus­es. It’s always a bad coin­ci­dence when a nov­el nasty virus emerges.

    But as the fol­low­ing New York Times Opin­ion piece describes, anoth­er inter­est­ing aspect of the fact that this virus first in Wuhan and appear­ing to look like it jumped to humans from bats in the region is that researchers found pre­vi­ous evi­dence of exact­ly that hap­pen­ing. The arti­cle describes the pre­vi­ous research of Zheng-Li Shi of the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy who was the senior author on stud­ies going back to 2005 of the coro­n­avirus­es found in the bats of Yun­nan cave, which is about 1000 miles south­west of Wuhan. It was Shi who found in 2005 that the SARS virus came from bats. And in 2017, Shi pub­lished a study on the coro­na virus­es found in the horse­shoe bats of Yun­nan cave and it turns out the DNA sequence of the cur­rent COVID-19 coro­n­avirus is 96 per­cent sim­i­lar to that 2017 horse­shoe bat virus. Dur­ing that same study they test­ed the peo­ple liv­ing near the Yun­nan Cave and found that 3 per­cent of them had anti­bod­ies against SARS-relat­ed coroavirus­es. Peter Daszak — the head of the Eco­Health Alliance who we saw above advo­cat­ing for the cre­ation of vast data­bas­es of viral sequences and the cre­ation of chimeric syn­thet­ic virus­es to pre­emp­tive­ly cre­ate treat­ments for yet-to-emerge virus­es — was part of the 2005 and 2017 stud­ies. As Daszak describes, the fact that they found anti­bod­ies for SARS-like coro­n­avirus­es in the peo­ple around these caves sug­gests that coro­n­avirus­es have been jump­ing from humans to bats repeat­ed­ly. In oth­er words, the cur­rent out­break was kind of inevitable.

    At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that the dis­cov­ery that coro­n­avirus­es have been repeat­ed­ly jump­ing from bats to humans would make a coro­n­avirus out­break in Chi­na the per­fect can­di­date if some­one want­ed to release a coro­n­avirus among humans and make it appear to be a com­plete­ly nat­ur­al event. The ‘weaponiza­tion’, in this case, could sim­ply be mod­i­fi­ca­tions that allow it to infect humans, per­haps some­thing like the ‘gain-of-func­tion’ exper­i­ments on fer­rets. No oth­er mod­i­fi­ca­tions are required if you want to scare the hell out of the globe because an emerg­ing virus with unknown prop­er­ties is scary enough on its own. As the arti­cle notes, the cur­rent COVID-19 virus and that horse­shoe bat virus they found in 2017 con­sti­tute a dis­tinct pair of coro­n­avirus­es unlike any oth­er coro­n­avirus­es virus­es yet. It’s not clear from the arti­cle what exact­ly makes them dis­tinct from the rest of the known coro­n­avirus­es but it’s worth recall­ing that the cur­rent coro­n­avirus is the only one known to infect the human upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract so it’s already an out­lier in that cru­cial respect.

    Anoth­er form of “weo­poniz­ing” a virus is sim­ply dis­cov­er­ing a nov­el virus that recent­ly adapt­ed the abil­i­ty to jump to humans and keep­ing it under wraps until you wait to release it in a pop­u­la­tion cen­ter. In that sense the weaponiza­tion would­n’t involve mod­i­fy­ing the virus at all but instead weaponiz­ing the release it at a time and place of your choos­ing.

    It’s all part of what makes assess­ing these events so tricky in the era of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy: sure, the virus­es could be man-made because we sim­ply can’t rule it out any­more. That abil­i­ty now exists and lots of gov­ern­ments and pri­vate orga­ni­za­tions have that capa­bil­i­ty. But the virus could also be entire­ly nat­ur­al. Human civ­i­liza­tion is doing every­thing it can to increase the odds of these ani­mal-to-human jumps of hap­pen­ing and Chi­na was already a hot-spot for bat-to-human coro­n­avirus jumps. And we can’t rule out the release of a weaponized virus select­ed from the virus­es known to be most like­ly to nat­u­ral­ly jump to humans to make it look as nat­ur­al as pos­si­ble or the inten­tion­al­ly release of an entire­ly nat­ur­al nov­el virus. It’s all tech­ni­cal­ly fea­si­ble with today’s tech­nol­o­gy.

    Ok, here’s that NY Times Opin­ion piece that describes Dr. Shi’s research on bat coro­n­avirus­es. As it describes their 2017 find­ings, a coro­n­avirus unlike any oth­er known coro­n­avirus was dis­cov­ered in that Yun­nan Cave horse­shoe bat pop­u­la­tion and it turns out that new coro­n­avirus has a 96 per­cent sequence sim­i­lar­i­ty with it. It would be inter­est­ing to know if that 4 per­cent sequence dif­fer­ence includes muta­tions that make it eas­i­er to infect human cells or spread in the upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract. And 3 per­cent of the peo­ple in the sur­round­ing area had anti­bod­ies indi­cat­ing they had already been infect­ed with bat coro­n­avirus­es. So it was the per­fect recipe for a bat-to-human jump in 2017 and it appears that’s exact­ly what hap­pened. Whether or not the virus had some ‘help’ along the way to ensure it spread at this oppor­tune moment is the kind of ques­tion we can’t con­clu­sive­ly answer but have to ask since we’re now liv­ing in the age of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy:

    The New York Times
    Opin­ion

    We Made the Coro­n­avirus Epi­dem­ic
    It may have start­ed with a bat in a cave, but human activ­i­ty set it loose.

    By David Quam­men
    Mr. Quam­men is the author of “Spillover: Ani­mal Infec­tions and the Next Human Pan­dem­ic.”

    Jan. 28, 2020

    The lat­est scary new virus that has cap­tured the world’s hor­ri­fied atten­tion, caused a lock­down of 56 mil­lion peo­ple in Chi­na, dis­rupt­ed trav­el plans around the globe and sparked a run on med­ical masks from Wuhan, Hubei Province, to Bryan, Texas, is known pro­vi­sion­al­ly as “nCoV-2019.” It’s a clunky moniker for a lurid threat.

    The name, picked by the team of Chi­nese sci­en­tists who iso­lat­ed and iden­ti­fied the virus, is short for “nov­el coro­n­avirus of 2019.” It reflects the fact that the virus was first rec­og­nized to have infect­ed humans late last year — in a seafood and live-ani­mal mar­ket in Wuhan — and that it belongs to the coro­n­avirus fam­i­ly, a noto­ri­ous group. The SARS epi­dem­ic of 2002–3, which infect­ed 8,098 peo­ple world­wide, killing 774 of them, was caused by a coro­n­avirus, and so was the MERS out­break that began on the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la in 2012 and still lingers (2,494 peo­ple infect­ed and 858 deaths as of Novem­ber).

    Despite the new virus’s name, though, and as the peo­ple who chris­tened it well know, nCoV-2019 isn’t as nov­el as you might think.

    Some­thing very much like it was found sev­er­al years ago in a cave in Yun­nan, a province rough­ly a thou­sand miles south­west of Wuhan, by a team of per­spi­ca­cious researchers, who not­ed its exis­tence with con­cern. The fast spread of nCoV-2019 — more than 4,500 con­firmed cas­es, includ­ing at least 106 deaths, as of Tues­day morn­ing, and the fig­ures will have risen by the time you read this — is star­tling but not unfore­see­able. That the virus emerged from a non­hu­man ani­mal, prob­a­bly a bat, and pos­si­bly after pass­ing through anoth­er crea­ture, may seem spooky, yet it is utter­ly unsur­pris­ing to sci­en­tists who study these things.

    One such sci­en­tist is Zheng-Li Shi, of the Wuhan Insti­tute of Virol­o­gy, a senior author of the draft paper (not yet peer reviewed and so far avail­able only in preprint) that gave nCoV-2019 its iden­ti­ty and name. It was Ms. Shi and her col­lab­o­ra­tors who, back in 2005, showed that the SARS pathogen was a bat virus that had spilled over into peo­ple. Ms. Shi and col­leagues have been trac­ing coro­n­avirus­es in bats since then, warn­ing that some of them are unique­ly suit­ed to cause human pan­demics.

    In a 2017 paper, they set out how, after near­ly five years of col­lect­ing fecal sam­ples from bats in the Yun­nan cave, they had found coro­n­avirus­es in mul­ti­ple indi­vid­u­als of four dif­fer­ent species of bats, includ­ing one called the inter­me­di­ate horse­shoe bat, because of the half-oval flap of skin pro­trud­ing like a saucer around its nos­trils. The genome of that virus, Ms. Shi and her col­leagues have now announced, is 96 per­cent iden­ti­cal to the Wuhan virus that has recent­ly been found in humans. And those two con­sti­tute a pair dis­tinct from all oth­er known coro­n­avirus­es, includ­ing the one that caus­es SARS. In this sense, nCoV-2019 is nov­el — and pos­si­bly even more dan­ger­ous to humans than the oth­er coro­n­avirus­es.

    I say “pos­si­bly” because so far, not only do we not know how dan­ger­ous it is, we can’t know. Out­breaks of new viral dis­eases are like the steel balls in a pin­ball machine: You can slap your flip­pers at them, rock the machine on its legs and bonk the balls to the jit­tery rings, but where they end up drop­ping depends on 11 lev­els of chance as well as on any­thing you do. This is true with coro­n­avirus­es in par­tic­u­lar: They mutate often while they repli­cate, and can evolve as quick­ly as a night­mare ghoul.

    Peter Daszak, the pres­i­dent of Eco­Health Alliance, a pri­vate research orga­ni­za­tion based in New York that focus­es on the con­nec­tions between human and wildlife health, is one of Ms. Shi’s long­time part­ners. “We’ve been rais­ing the flag on these virus­es for 15 years,” he told me on Fri­day with calm frus­tra­tion. “Ever since SARS.” He was a co-author of the 2005 bats-and-SARS study, and again of the 2017 paper about the mul­ti­ple SARS-like coro­n­avirus­es in the Yun­nan cave.

    Mr. Daszak told me that, dur­ing that sec­ond study, the field team took blood sam­ples from a cou­ple of thou­sand Yun­nanese peo­ple, about 400 of whom lived near the cave. Rough­ly 3 per­cent of them car­ried anti­bod­ies against SARS-relat­ed coro­n­avirus­es.

    “We don’t know if they got sick. We don’t know if they were exposed as chil­dren or adults,” Mr. Daszak said. “But what it tells you is that these virus­es are mak­ing the jump, repeat­ed­ly, from bats to humans.” In oth­er words, this Wuhan emer­gency is no nov­el event. It’s part of a sequence of relat­ed con­tin­gen­cies that stretch­es back into the past and will stretch for­ward into the future, as long as cur­rent cir­cum­stances per­sist.

    So when you’re done wor­ry­ing about this out­break, wor­ry about the next one. Or do some­thing about the cur­rent cir­cum­stances.

    Cur­rent cir­cum­stances include a per­ilous trade in wildlife for food, with sup­ply chains stretch­ing through Asia, Africa and to a less­er extent, the Unit­ed States and else­where. That trade has now been out­lawed in Chi­na, on a tem­po­rary basis; but it was out­lawed also dur­ing SARS, then allowed to resume — with bats, civets, por­cu­pines, tur­tles, bam­boo rats, many kinds of birds and oth­er ani­mals piled togeth­er in mar­kets such as the one in Wuhan.

    Cur­rent cir­cum­stances also include 7.6 bil­lion hun­gry humans: some of them impov­er­ished and des­per­ate for pro­tein; some afflu­ent and waste­ful and empow­ered to trav­el every which way by air­plane. These fac­tors are unprece­dent­ed on plan­et Earth: We know from the fos­sil record, by absence of evi­dence, that no large-bod­ied ani­mal has ever been near­ly so abun­dant as humans are now, let alone so effec­tive at arro­gat­ing resources. And one con­se­quence of that abun­dance, that pow­er, and the con­se­quent eco­log­i­cal dis­tur­bances is increas­ing viral exchanges — first from ani­mal to human, then from human to human, some­times on a pan­dem­ic scale.

    We invade trop­i­cal forests and oth­er wild land­scapes, which har­bor so many species of ani­mals and plants — and with­in those crea­tures, so many unknown virus­es. We cut the trees; we kill the ani­mals or cage them and send them to mar­kets. We dis­rupt ecosys­tems, and we shake virus­es loose from their nat­ur­al hosts. When that hap­pens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.

    The list of such virus­es emerg­ing into humans sounds like a grim drum­beat: Machupo, Bolivia, 1961; Mar­burg, Ger­many, 1967; Ebo­la, Zaire and Sudan, 1976; H.I.V., rec­og­nized in New York and Cal­i­for­nia, 1981; a form of Han­ta (now known as Sin Nom­bre), south­west­ern Unit­ed States, 1993; Hen­dra, Aus­tralia, 1994; bird flu, Hong Kong, 1997; Nipah, Malaysia, 1998; West Nile, New York, 1999; SARS, Chi­na, 2002–3; MERS, Sau­di Ara­bia, 2012; Ebo­la again, West Africa, 2014. And that’s just a selec­tion. Now we have nCoV-2019, the lat­est thump on the drum.

    Cur­rent cir­cum­stances also include bureau­crats who lie and con­ceal bad news, and elect­ed offi­cials who brag to the crowd about cut­ting forests to cre­ate jobs in the tim­ber indus­try and agri­cul­ture or about cut­ting bud­gets for pub­lic health and research. The dis­tance from Wuhan or the Ama­zon to Paris, Toron­to or Wash­ing­ton is short for some virus­es, mea­sured in hours, giv­en how well they can ride with­in air­plane pas­sen­gers. And if you think fund­ing pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness is expen­sive, wait until you see the final cost of nCoV-2019.

    ...

    As the num­ber of nCoV-2019 cas­es has increased, and the death toll along with it, one met­ric, the case fatal­i­ty rate, has remained rather steady so far: at about or below 3 per­cent. As of Tues­day, less than three out of 100 con­firmed cas­es had died. That’s rel­a­tive­ly good luck — worse than for most strains of influen­za, bet­ter than for SARS.

    ...

    We are faced with two mor­tal chal­lenges, in the short term and the long term. Short term: We must do every­thing we can, with intel­li­gence, calm and a full com­mit­ment of resources, to con­tain and extin­guish this nCoV-2019 out­break before it becomes, as it could, a dev­as­tat­ing glob­al pan­dem­ic. Long term: We must remem­ber, when the dust set­tles, that nCoV-2019 was not a nov­el event or a mis­for­tune that befell us. It was — it is — part of a pat­tern of choic­es that we humans are mak­ing.

    ———-

    “We Made the Coro­n­avirus Epi­dem­ic” by David Quam­men; The New York Times; 01/28/2020

    “In a 2017 paper, they set out how, after near­ly five years of col­lect­ing fecal sam­ples from bats in the Yun­nan cave, they had found coro­n­avirus­es in mul­ti­ple indi­vid­u­als of four dif­fer­ent species of bats, includ­ing one called the inter­me­di­ate horse­shoe bat, because of the half-oval flap of skin pro­trud­ing like a saucer around its nos­trils. The genome of that virus, Ms. Shi and her col­leagues have now announced, is 96 per­cent iden­ti­cal to the Wuhan virus that has recent­ly been found in humans. And those two con­sti­tute a pair dis­tinct from all oth­er known coro­n­avirus­es, includ­ing the one that caus­es SARS. In this sense, nCoV-2019 is nov­el — and pos­si­bly even more dan­ger­ous to humans than the oth­er coro­n­avirus­es.

    The sequences don’t lie: a 96 per­cent over­lap between the cur­rent COVID-19 virus (known as both nCoV-2019 and SARS-CoV­‑2) and the horse­shoe bat coro­n­avirus dis­cov­ered in 2017. These two coro­n­avirus­es are very sim­i­lar. And they form a dis­tinct pair too com­pared to all oth­er known coro­n­avirus­es. That def­i­nite­ly points towards the cur­rent COVID-19 virus com­ing from this fam­i­ly of bat coro­n­avirus­es. And as Peter Daszak points out, since the peo­ple around the Yun­nan Cave have anti­bod­ies for SARs-like coro­n­avirus­es that tells us these jumps to humans have been hap­pen­ing repeat­ed­ly:

    ...
    I say “pos­si­bly” because so far, not only do we not know how dan­ger­ous it is, we can’t know. Out­breaks of new viral dis­eases are like the steel balls in a pin­ball machine: You can slap your flip­pers at them, rock the machine on its legs and bonk the balls to the jit­tery rings, but where they end up drop­ping depends on 11 lev­els of chance as well as on any­thing you do. This is true with coro­n­avirus­es in par­tic­u­lar: They mutate often while they repli­cate, and can evolve as quick­ly as a night­mare ghoul.

    Peter Daszak, the pres­i­dent of Eco­Health Alliance, a pri­vate research orga­ni­za­tion based in New York that focus­es on the con­nec­tions between human and wildlife health, is one of Ms. Shi’s long­time part­ners. “We’ve been rais­ing the flag on these virus­es for 15 years,” he told me on Fri­day with calm frus­tra­tion. “Ever since SARS.” He was a co-author of the 2005 bats-and-SARS study, and again of the 2017 paper about the mul­ti­ple SARS-like coro­n­avirus­es in the Yun­nan cave.

    Mr. Daszak told me that, dur­ing that sec­ond study, the field team took blood sam­ples from a cou­ple of thou­sand Yun­nanese peo­ple, about 400 of whom lived near the cave. Rough­ly 3 per­cent of them car­ried anti­bod­ies against SARS-relat­ed coro­n­avirus­es.

    “We don’t know if they got sick. We don’t know if they were exposed as chil­dren or adults,” Mr. Daszak said. “But what it tells you is that these virus­es are mak­ing the jump, repeat­ed­ly, from bats to humans.” In oth­er words, this Wuhan emer­gency is no nov­el event. It’s part of a sequence of relat­ed con­tin­gen­cies that stretch­es back into the past and will stretch for­ward into the future, as long as cur­rent cir­cum­stances per­sist.

    So when you’re done wor­ry­ing about this out­break, wor­ry about the next one. Or do some­thing about the cur­rent cir­cum­stances.
    ...

    So horse­shoe bat virus­es were clear­ly a top can­di­date for a com­plete­ly nat­ur­al ani­mal-to-human coro­n­avirus jump and that appears to be pre­cise­ly what hap­pens. But we still can’t ignore the real­i­ty that the dis­cov­ery of these bat-to-human jumps around Yun­nan Cave auto­mat­i­cal­ly made this par­tic­u­lar bat coro­n­avirus a prime can­di­date for weaponiza­tion. It’s one of the com­pli­ca­tions with Dasza­k’s vision for a giant data­base of virus­es that can infect humans: yes, such a data­base would be invalu­able to researchers look­ing for cures and vac­cines. It would also be invalu­able to some­one look­ing for top virus can­di­dates for a weaponized ‘nat­ur­al’ release.

    That brings us to the fol­low­ing 2018 arti­cle describ­ing a study released by US Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences at the request of the Depart­ment of Defense about the threats of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy. As the study con­clud­ed, the tech­niques to tweak and weaponize virus­es from the exist­ing known cat­a­logs of viral sequences is very fea­si­ble and rel­a­tive­ly easy to do:

    The Guardian

    Syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy rais­es risk of new bioweapons, US report warns

    Report warns that swift progress in our abil­i­ty to man­u­fac­ture virus­es is mak­ing us vul­ner­a­ble to bio­log­i­cal attacks

    Ian Sam­ple Sci­ence edi­tor
    Tue 19 Jun 2018 12.26 EDT

    The rapid rise of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy, a futur­is­tic field of sci­ence that seeks to mas­ter the machin­ery of life, has raised the risk of a new gen­er­a­tion of bioweapons, accord­ing a major US report into the state of the art.

    Advances in the area mean that sci­en­tists now have the capa­bil­i­ty to recre­ate dan­ger­ous virus­es from scratch; make harm­ful bac­te­ria more dead­ly; and mod­i­fy com­mon microbes so that they churn out lethal tox­ins once they enter the body.

    The three sce­nar­ios are picked out as threats of high­est con­cern in a review of the field pub­lished on Tues­day by the US Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences at the request of the Depart­ment of Defense. The report was com­mis­sioned to flag up ways in which the pow­er­ful tech­nol­o­gy might be abused, and to focus minds on how best to pre­pare.

    Michael Impe­ri­ale, chair of the report com­mit­tee, and pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­o­gy and immunol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, said the review used only unclas­si­fied infor­ma­tion and so has no assess­ment of which groups, if any, might be pur­su­ing nov­el bio­log­i­cal weapons. “We can’t say how like­ly any of these sce­nar­ios are,” he said. “But we can talk about how fea­si­ble they are.”

    In the report, the sci­en­tists describe how syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy, which gives researchers pre­ci­sion tools to manip­u­late liv­ing organ­isms, “enhances and expands” oppor­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate bioweapons. “As the pow­er of the tech­nol­o­gy increas­es, that brings a gen­er­al need to scru­ti­nise where harms could come from,” said Peter Carr, a senior sci­en­tist at MIT’s Syn­thet­ic Biol­o­gy Cen­ter in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts.

    More than 20 years ago, Eckard Wim­mer, a geneti­cist at Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, high­light­ed the poten­tial dan­gers of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy in dra­mat­ic style when he recre­at­ed poliovirus in a test tube. Ear­li­er this year, a team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta built an infec­tious horse­pox virus. The virus is a close rel­a­tive of small­pox, which may have claimed half a bil­lion lives in the 20th cen­tu­ry. Today, the genet­ic code of almost any mam­malian virus can be found online and syn­the­sised. “The tech­nol­o­gy to do this is avail­able now,” said Impe­ri­ale. “It requires some exper­tise, but it’s some­thing that’s rel­a­tive­ly easy to do, and that is why it tops the list.”

    Oth­er fair­ly sim­ple pro­ce­dures can be used to tweak the genes of dan­ger­ous bac­te­ria and make them resis­tant to antibi­otics, so that peo­ple infect­ed with them would be untreat­able. A more exot­ic bioweapon might come in the form of a genet­i­cal­ly-altered microbe that colonis­es the gut and churns out poi­sons. “While that is tech­ni­cal­ly more dif­fi­cult, it is a con­cern because it may not look like any­thing you nor­mal­ly watch out for in pub­lic health,” Impe­ri­ale said.

    ...

    One bioweapon that is not con­sid­ered an imme­di­ate threat is a so-called gene dri­ve that spreads through a pop­u­la­tion, rewrit­ing human DNA as it goes. “It’s impor­tant to recog­nise that it’s easy to come up with a scary-sound­ing idea, but it’s far more dif­fi­cult to do some­thing prac­ti­cal with it,” said Carr.

    ————

    “Syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy rais­es risk of new bioweapons, US report warns” by Ian Sam­ple; The Guardian; 06/19/2018

    “Michael Impe­ri­ale, chair of the report com­mit­tee, and pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­o­gy and immunol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, said the review used only unclas­si­fied infor­ma­tion and so has no assess­ment of which groups, if any, might be pur­su­ing nov­el bio­log­i­cal weapons. “We can’t say how like­ly any of these sce­nar­ios are,” he said. “But we can talk about how fea­si­ble they are.”

    Yes, we can’t say how like­ly these syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy war­fare sce­nar­ios are but we cant talk about how fea­si­ble they are. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, if it’s fea­si­ble some­one will prob­a­bly do it. That’s how humans work. So while we can’t say how like­ly any of these sce­nar­ios are, we can make an edu­cat­ed guess based on human nature and that would strong­ly point towards these tech­nolo­gies already being used:

    ...
    In the report, the sci­en­tists describe how syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy, which gives researchers pre­ci­sion tools to manip­u­late liv­ing organ­isms, “enhances and expands” oppor­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate bioweapons. “As the pow­er of the tech­nol­o­gy increas­es, that brings a gen­er­al need to scru­ti­nise where harms could come from,” said Peter Carr, a senior sci­en­tist at MIT’s Syn­thet­ic Biol­o­gy Cen­ter in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts.

    More than 20 years ago, Eckard Wim­mer, a geneti­cist at Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, high­light­ed the poten­tial dan­gers of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy in dra­mat­ic style when he recre­at­ed poliovirus in a test tube. Ear­li­er this year, a team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alber­ta built an infec­tious horse­pox virus. The virus is a close rel­a­tive of small­pox, which may have claimed half a bil­lion lives in the 20th cen­tu­ry. Today, the genet­ic code of almost any mam­malian virus can be found online and syn­the­sised. “The tech­nol­o­gy to do this is avail­able now,” said Impe­ri­ale. “It requires some exper­tise, but it’s some­thing that’s rel­a­tive­ly easy to do, and that is why it tops the list.”

    Oth­er fair­ly sim­ple pro­ce­dures can be used to tweak the genes of dan­ger­ous bac­te­ria and make them resis­tant to antibi­otics, so that peo­ple infect­ed with them would be untreat­able. A more exot­ic bioweapon might come in the form of a genet­i­cal­ly-altered microbe that colonis­es the gut and churns out poi­sons. “While that is tech­ni­cal­ly more dif­fi­cult, it is a con­cern because it may not look like any­thing you nor­mal­ly watch out for in pub­lic health,” Impe­ri­ale said.
    ...

    The genet­ic code of almost any mam­malian virus can be found online and syn­the­sized. It’s rel­a­tive­ly easy to do. And that’s why we can’t rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that some­one sim­ply took the viral sequence from the 2017 study, maybe tweaked it a bit, and sim­ply released it in Wuhan. Chi­na would cer­tain­ly be a plau­si­ble loca­tion for some­thing like that to nat­u­ral­ly hap­pen so it would be a great can­di­date for a timed inten­tion­al release too.

    But at least the study con­clud­ed that virus­es designed to lit­er­al­ly change the human genome as it spreads is still not an imme­di­ate threat:

    ...
    One bioweapon that is not con­sid­ered an imme­di­ate threat is a so-called gene dri­ve that spreads through a pop­u­la­tion, rewrit­ing human DNA as it goes. “It’s impor­tant to recog­nise that it’s easy to come up with a scary-sound­ing idea, but it’s far more dif­fi­cult to do some­thing prac­ti­cal with it,” said Carr.
    ...

    So things could be worse. But it’s also just a mat­ter of time before they are worse and such tech­nol­o­gy is fea­si­ble. And even­tu­al­ly it won’t just be fea­si­ble but rel­a­tive­ly easy to do. That’s where we’re head­ing.

    At this point we’re going to have to wait and see what the virol­o­gy com­mu­ni­ty dis­cov­ers regard­ing the cur­rent COVID-19 virus and its rela­tion­ship to the horse­shoe bat coro­n­avirus from 2017. The two virus­es are clear­ly more sim­i­lar to each oth­er than they are to any oth­er coro­n­avirus­es. So if COVID-19 virus has indeed been weaponized with sequence mod­i­fi­ca­tions to make it spread more eas­i­ly in humans those sequence dif­fer­ences are going to become appar­ent when com­par­ing it to that 2017 coro­n­avirus from Yun­nan. But whether or not those sequence dif­fer­ences would be detectable as inten­tion­al mod­i­fi­ca­tions or appear to be nat­ur­al muta­tions is very much an open ques­tion. But it seems like it must be very fea­si­ble to make a man-made virus that looks nat­ur­al if only a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions are required and one of the big lessons from the 2017 Yun­nan Cave study was that only a few mod­i­fi­ca­tions are prob­a­bly required for a jump to humans to hap­pen. And the “gain-of-func­tion” exper­i­ments tak­ing place in labs today are lit­er­al­ly all about dis­cov­er­ing which mod­i­fi­ca­tions are required for a virus to acquire new capa­bil­i­ties, like infect­ing the upper res­pi­ra­to­ry tract. Over­all, it would appear that it is tech­no­log­i­cal­ly very fea­si­ble that the COVID-19 virus could have been tweaked in a man­ner that made it more infec­tious for humans. It’s at least well with­in the realm of known tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties wide­ly held by gov­ern­ments across the globe.

    In oth­er words, now that we’re in the era of syn­thet­ic biol­o­gy, every time we learn about a region of the globe where a new nov­el virus is poised to nat­u­ral­ly jump to humans we’re simul­ta­ne­ous­ly learn­ing about a great new oppor­tu­ni­ty for some­one to stage an ani­mal-to-human viral jump. So as of now it’s look­ing very fea­si­ble that this virus just nat­u­ral­ly made the jump to humans because we already saw evi­dence of that hap­pen­ing in 2017 but that evi­dence is also what makes this virus a fea­si­ble and very tempt­ing can­di­date for an inten­tion­al release of some sort if, for exam­ple, some­one want­ed to cre­at­ed a glob­al emer­gent viral scare start­ing in Chi­na.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 2, 2020, 2:39 pm
  5. @Pterrafractyl–

    You make some good points. As a “stand-alone” event, the 2017 bat-to-human coro­n­avirus dis­cov­ery would car­ry larg­er weight.

    It would, as you not­ed, be sim­ple to have syn­the­sized a sim­i­lar virus and, as you also not­ed, releas­ing it in Wuhan would pro­vide excel­lent “cover”–an opti­mum con­sid­er­a­tion in a covert oper­a­tion.

    I am inclined toward the “bio-psy-op” hypoth­e­sis by the oth­er cir­cum­stances and events in the con­text of which this occurs:

    Steve Ban­non vs. Chi­na “One will sur­vive and one won’t;” the oth­er anti-Chi­na moves–trade war; anti-Huawei sanc­tions; sanc­tions against tech sales to Chi­na; Bar­r’s charg­ing of Chi­nese agents in Equifax hack; the sanc­tions against Chi­nese media out­lets; State Depart­ment moves in Africa and the very curi­ous invest­ment prac­tices of Ban­non asso­ciates J.Kyle Bass and Tom­my Hicks, Jr.

    One of the most impor­tant of the con­sid­er­a­tions is the weaponized media cov­er­age.

    The media are guilty of incite­ment.

    Most peo­ple are get­ting noth­ing more than a mild upper res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion, although SOME are hav­ing an over-reac­tion by the immune sys­tem.

    85,000 infect­ed worldwide–almost that many died of the flu in this coun­try two years ago.

    We did­n’t get that Chick­en Lit­tle Jour­nal­ism: “The Sky is Falling–Better wear a hard hat” then.

    Also: the stri­dent anti-Chi­nese harangu­ing and the UTTER ABSENCE in U.S. media of any men­tion of the suc­cess of a mun­dane drug cock­tail in Thai­land.

    Why not? It cer­tain­ly is news!

    Excel­lent work!

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | March 2, 2020, 6:48 pm
  6. @Dave: Regard­ing the lack of report­ing on the rel­a­tive suc­cess of the anti-viral cock­tails used to treat a patient in Thai­land, one pos­si­ble expla­na­tion for the lack of much cov­er­age of that dis­cov­ery is that the find­ing will required fol­lowup tests on larg­er num­bers of patients to con­firm whether or not it works for larg­er num­bers of cas­es. It’s a frus­trat­ing kind of delay but it might be nec­es­sary to ensure there isn’t a sud­den run on the drugs when its effi­ca­cy has­n’t been con­firmed (which could be real­ly bad for all the patients with HIV that need that drug). So we kind of have to hope the appar­ent lack of excite­ment over those effec­tive treat­ments is part of a strat­e­gy to avoid a mishap that results in a severe drug short­age and not part of an effort to max­i­mize fear of the virus. Inter­est­ing­ly, there was an update on that Thai­land case a cou­ple of weeks ago. It sounds like the cock­tail did indeed help but did­n’t actu­al­ly cure the woman entire­ly. Still, they did see a “dra­mat­ic improve­ment” in her rapid­ly dete­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tion which seems like the kind of news that would be wel­come. But, offi­cial­ly, the offi­cial WHO and CDC guide­lines still state that there’s no spe­cif­ic rec­om­mend­ed treat­ment to pre­vent or cure COVID-19. So tech­ni­cal­ly that drug cock­tail in Thai­land isn’t con­sid­ered a cure because it did­n’t get rid of the virus entire­ly despite caus­ing a “dra­mat­ic improve­ment” in a severe­ly ill patient:

    AFP Thai­land

    Thai doc­tors say their treat­ment helped a coro­n­avirus patient recov­er, but it was not a ‘cure’

    AFP Thai­land
    Pub­lished on Mon­day 17 Feb­ru­ary 2020 At 19:45

    Mul­ti­ple social media posts and media reports shared hun­dreds of times in Feb­ru­ary 2020 claim Thai­land has cured a COVID-19 patient with­in 48 hours using a cock­tail of an anti-HIV drug and an antivi­ral drug used for treat­ing influen­za. The claim is mis­lead­ing, Thai doc­tors say the cock­tail of drugs did great­ly improve the con­di­tion of the patient over 48 hours but did not cure them of the viral infec­tion, the World Health Organ­i­sa­tion (WHO) said there is “no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine” to pre­vent or treat nov­el coro­n­avirus as of Feb­ru­ary 14, 2020.

    This Face­book post was pub­lished on Feb­ru­ary 11, 2020. It has been shared 282 times.

    It shows a pho­to of two peo­ple wear­ing gowns in a lab­o­ra­to­ry with the text: “Thai­land ‘cures’ coro­n­avirus with an anti-HIV drug in 48 hours. The doc­tors com­bined the anti-flu drug oseltamivir with lopinavir and riton­avir, antivi­rals used to treat HIV.”

    Below is the screen­shot of the mis­lead­ing post:
    [see post]

    ...

    A sim­i­lar claim was pub­lished here, here and here on Twit­ter, here on a Ghana­ian web­site and here on a Ugan­dan news site.

    The claim is mis­lead­ing, Thai doc­tors said that whilst they suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed one coro­n­avirus patient with a cock­tail of drugs, they did not “cure” her of the viral infec­tion.

    On Feb­ru­ary 2, 2020, Thailand’s Min­istry of Pub­lic Health announced that a Chi­nese nation­al infect­ed with nov­el coro­n­avirus has shown “dra­mat­ic improve­ment” some 48 hours after being treat­ed with a cock­tail of the anti-flu drug oseltamivir and anti-HIV drugs lopinavir and riton­avir. Here is an AFP report on the press brief­ing.

    “I have expe­ri­ence treat­ing patients with severe con­di­tions. I treat­ed the patients and the result was sat­is­fy­ing. The patient got bet­ter fast with­in 48 hours,” Dr. Kriengsak Atti­porn­wanich said dur­ing the brief­ing.

    “Ten days before arriv­ing in my hos­pi­tal, the patient’s con­di­tion was wors­en­ing and the inflam­ma­to­ry mark­er was becom­ing high­er and high­er every day. The patient had a ten­den­cy to need a res­pi­ra­tor. But when she was giv­en the cock­tail drugs, the patient got bet­ter sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Her fever reduced, the patient had a bet­ter appetite.”

    The Min­istry of Pub­lic Health also pub­lished this arti­cle titled “Anutin reveals good news. Thai doc­tors treat patients with COVID-2019. Symp­toms improved in 48 hours after treat­ment.”

    Anutin Charn­vi­rakul is Thailand’s Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Health.

    The arti­cle reads, in part: “The Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Health reveals that doc­tors from Rajavithi hos­pi­tal treat­ed a patient with inflam­ma­to­ry lungs, infect­ed with nov­el coro­n­avirus 2019, show­ing severe symp­toms, got bet­ter in 48 hours.”

    As of Feb­ru­ary 14, the WHO’s guide­lines state there is “no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine” to pre­vent or treat nov­el coro­n­avirus.

    The guide­lines states, in part: “To date, there is no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine rec­om­mend­ed to pre­vent or treat the nov­el coro­n­avirus. How­ev­er, those infect­ed should receive appro­pri­ate care to relieve and treat symp­toms, and those with severe ill­ness should receive opti­mized sup­port­ive care. Some spe­cif­ic treat­ments are under inves­ti­ga­tion and will be test­ed through clin­i­cal tri­als. WHO is help­ing to coor­di­nate efforts to devel­op med­i­cines to treat nCoV with a range of part­ners.”

    The US-based Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion also states here that “there is no spe­cif­ic antivi­ral treat­ment rec­om­mend­ed” for the COVID-2019 infec­tion.

    “Peo­ple infect­ed with [COVID-2019] should receive sup­port­ive care to help relieve symp­toms,” the agency said.

    ———-

    “Thai doc­tors say their treat­ment helped a coro­n­avirus patient recov­er, but it was not a ‘cure’” by AFP Thai­land, AFP Thai­land, 02/17/2020

    “The claim is mis­lead­ing, Thai doc­tors said that whilst they suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed one coro­n­avirus patient with a cock­tail of drugs, they did not “cure” her of the viral infec­tion.”

    So the drug cock­tail did­n’t entire­ly “cure” the patient and there­fore the claims that the drug cock­tail suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed a patient is mis­lead­ing. That’s what we’re told, which seems like a remark­ably high thresh­old for con­sid­er­ing some­thing to be an effec­tive treat­ment. If you can take a sev­er­al ill patient and see a “dra­mat­ic improve­ment” in 48 hours, that sounds like an effec­tive treat­ment even if it does­n’t get rid of the virus entire­ly unless it turned out the patient sub­se­quent­ly relapsed. But it does­n’s sound like a relapse hap­pened so it’s unclear why this cock­tail isn’t being con­sid­ered a val­ue treat­ment sim­ply because it did­n’t wipe out the virus entire­ly:

    ...
    On Feb­ru­ary 2, 2020, Thailand’s Min­istry of Pub­lic Health announced that a Chi­nese nation­al infect­ed with nov­el coro­n­avirus has shown “dra­mat­ic improve­ment” some 48 hours after being treat­ed with a cock­tail of the anti-flu drug oseltamivir and anti-HIV drugs lopinavir and riton­avir. Here is an AFP report on the press brief­ing.

    “I have expe­ri­ence treat­ing patients with severe con­di­tions. I treat­ed the patients and the result was sat­is­fy­ing. The patient got bet­ter fast with­in 48 hours,” Dr. Kriengsak Atti­porn­wanich said dur­ing the brief­ing.

    “Ten days before arriv­ing in my hos­pi­tal, the patient’s con­di­tion was wors­en­ing and the inflam­ma­to­ry mark­er was becom­ing high­er and high­er every day. The patient had a ten­den­cy to need a res­pi­ra­tor. But when she was giv­en the cock­tail drugs, the patient got bet­ter sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Her fever reduced, the patient had a bet­ter appetite.”
    ...

    And as of Feb­ru­ary 14, the WHO was offi­cial­ly declar­ing there is “no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine” to pre­vent or treat nov­el coro­n­avirus, a guide­line shared by the CDD which offi­cial­ly states that “there is no spe­cif­ic antivi­ral treat­ment rec­om­mend­ed” for the COVID-2019 infec­tion. It’s kind of amaz­ing that the antivi­ral cock­tails aren’t at least rec­om­mend­ed at this point. WHO did announce that “Some spe­cif­ic treat­ments are under inves­ti­ga­tion and will be test­ed through clin­i­cal tri­als,” so hope­ful­ly that Thai­land cock­tail is being giv­en a top pri­or­i­ty for going through clin­i­cal tri­als (they’re def­i­nite­ly under­go­ing test­ing now). If not, that would be pret­ty scan­dalous:

    ...
    As of Feb­ru­ary 14, the WHO’s guide­lines state there is “no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine” to pre­vent or treat nov­el coro­n­avirus.

    The guide­lines states, in part: “To date, there is no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine rec­om­mend­ed to pre­vent or treat the nov­el coro­n­avirus. How­ev­er, those infect­ed should receive appro­pri­ate care to relieve and treat symp­toms, and those with severe ill­ness should receive opti­mized sup­port­ive care. Some spe­cif­ic treat­ments are under inves­ti­ga­tion and will be test­ed through clin­i­cal tri­als. WHO is help­ing to coor­di­nate efforts to devel­op med­i­cines to treat nCoV with a range of part­ners.”

    The US-based Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion also states here that “there is no spe­cif­ic antivi­ral treat­ment rec­om­mend­ed” for the COVID-2019 infec­tion.

    “Peo­ple infect­ed with [COVID-2019] should receive sup­port­ive care to help relieve symp­toms,” the agency said.
    ...

    It’s pos­si­ble that announc­ing that this drug cock­tail is an effec­tive cure would pre­dictably result in the drugs get­ting wast­ed on mild or mod­er­ate cas­es and glob­al sup­plies would run short. Still, if there’s a run on the drugs and sup­plies run out, a big dri­ver for that would be the unrea­son­able lev­els of fear get­ting pushed about the virus and the sense that there’s no known treat­ment is a big dri­ver for those fears. It’s a ‘chick­en and egg’ kind of pub­lic dis­clo­sure sit­u­a­tion.

    Now here’s anoth­er exam­ple of what appears to be the WHO engag­ing in irre­spon­si­ble fear­mon­ger­ing about the virus. WHO had a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day with COVID-19 updates and it unfor­tu­nate­ly turned into some sort of fear­mon­ger­ing event. It’s unclear if it was delib­er­ate or just poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Dur­ing the press brief­ing, Tedros Adhanom Ghe­breye­sus, the direc­tor gen­er­al of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, gave an update on what they’re learn­ing about the case fatal­i­ty rate and he announced that, “Glob­al­ly, about 3.4% of report­ed COVID-19 cas­es have died.” That’s a dra­mat­ic increase from the ~2% case fatal­i­ty rate that’s been steadi­ly report­ed.

    What caused the sud­den spike in the cal­cu­lat­ed fatal­i­ty rate? That’s unclear but the fact both Iran and the US have offi­cial case fatal­i­ty rates well above 2% might have to do with it. And Wuhan, Chi­na is find­ing a 2–4% case fatal­i­ty rate despite a 0.7% rate found else­where in Chi­na. So it might be tech­ni­cal­ly true that 3.4% of the known cas­es have died glob­al­ly. But it’s also unam­bigu­ous­ly the case that these esti­mates are based on under­counts of the total num­ber of cas­es that arti­fi­cial­ly inflate the case fatal­i­ty rate. And if there’s one major thing we’ve been learn­ing about this dis­ease in recent weeks it’s that it appears mild to mod­er­ate cas­es are almost cer­tain­ly spread­ing around with­out being count­ed.

    So it’s just gross­ly irre­spon­si­ble fear­mon­ger­ing for the direc­tor gen­er­al of WHO to give a press con­fer­ence announc­ing a 3.4% case fatal­i­ty rate with­out imme­di­ate­ly clar­i­fy­ing that this num­ber is almost cer­tain­ly an over­es­ti­mate based on the under­count­ing of mild and mod­er­ate cas­es. The caveat about the case fatal­i­ty rates almost cer­tain­ly being an over­es­ti­mate real­ly should be giv­en every time the ~2% case fatal­i­ty rate is giv­en too but that almost nev­er hap­pens. So this awful com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the WHO press con­fer­ence was real­ly just an extra bad exam­ple of the awful com­mu­ni­ca­tion that’s been preva­lent through­out the entire out­break. Although not all report­ing has neglect­ed to pro­vide these caveats. For exam­ple, here’s an arti­cle about the WHO’s press con­fer­ence that actu­al­ly points out that the true case fatal­i­ty rates are almost cer­tain­ly much low­er than the offi­cial esti­mates due to missed cas­es, which rais­es the ques­tion of why the WHO isn’t mak­ing these same points dur­ing their press con­fer­ences:

    Mar­ket­Watch

    WHO says coro­n­avirus fatal­i­ty rates are high­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought — they also vary wild­ly depend­ing on age, gen­der and coun­try

    By Quentin Fot­trell
    Pub­lished: Mar 3, 2020 8:03 p.m. ET

    Tedros Adhanom Ghe­breye­sus, the direc­tor gen­er­al of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, deliv­ered new fatal­i­ty rates for COVID-19 at a press con­fer­ence Tues­day

    As the COVID-19 spreads, sci­en­tists are learn­ing more about the disease’s fatal­i­ty rate.

    “Glob­al­ly, about 3.4% of report­ed COVID-19 cas­es have died,” Tedros Adhanom Ghe­breye­sus, the direc­tor gen­er­al of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, said at a press brief­ing in Gene­va. That’s more than pre­vi­ous esti­mates that hov­ered around 2% and the influen­za fatal­i­ty rate of less than 1%.

    Tedros said last week the fatal­i­ty rate in Wuhan, Chi­na, con­sid­ered the epi­cen­ter of the out­break, is between 2% and 4%. Out­side of Wuhan, it is thought to be clos­er to 0.7%, although some esti­mates put it at clos­er to 2%. The epi­dem­ic is “affect­ing coun­tries in dif­fer­ent ways,” he added.

    There were 92,818 con­firmed cas­es of COVID-19 and more than 3,100 deaths, pri­mar­i­ly in China’s Hubei Province, and nine report­ed deaths in the U.S., accord­ing to a the lat­est tal­ly pub­lished by the Johns Hop­kins Whit­ing School of Engineering’s Cen­ters for Sys­tems Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing.

    Just how dead­ly is the virus? The med­ical jour­nal JAMA released this paper ana­lyz­ing data from the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion on 72,314 coro­n­avirus cas­es in main­land Chi­na, the fig­ure as of Feb. 11, the largest such sam­ple in a study of this kind.

    The sample’s over­all case-fatal­i­ty rate was 2.3%, in line with the ear­li­er glob­al esti­mates for the virus. No deaths occurred in those aged 9 years and younger, but cas­es in those aged 70 to 79 years had an 8% fatal­i­ty rate and those aged 80 years and old­er had a fatal­i­ty rate of 14.8%.

    No deaths were report­ed among mild and severe cas­es. The fatal­i­ty rate was 49% among crit­i­cal cas­es, and ele­vat­ed among those with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions: 10.5% for peo­ple with car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, 7.3% for dia­betes, 6.3% for chron­ic res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease, 6% for hyper­ten­sion, and 5.6% for can­cer.

    The lat­est Chi­na-based study, which was not peer-reviewed by U.S. sci­en­tists, found that men had a fatal­i­ty rate of 2.8% ver­sus 1.7% for women. Some doc­tors have said that women may have a stronger immune sys­tem as a genet­ic advan­tage to help babies dur­ing preg­nan­cy.

    The Chi­nese study is like­ly not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what might hap­pen if the glob­al spread of the virus wors­ens, par­tic­u­lar­ly as regards gen­der. In Chi­na, near­ly half of men smoke cig­a­rettes ver­sus 2% of women, which could be one rea­son for the gen­der dis­par­i­ty.

    Nine peo­ple have died in Wash­ing­ton state of COVID-19, and prompt­ing offi­cials there to declare a state of emer­gency. The U.S. has 118 con­firmed cas­es, John Hop­kins said. Italy has 2,502 cas­es and 79 deaths, South Korea has 5,186 cas­es, and Iran has 2,336 cas­es.

    The high death rate in coun­tries such as Iran (4.4% based on the cur­rent num­ber of con­firmed cas­es) could also be relat­ed to offi­cials in that coun­try under­es­ti­mat­ing the num­ber of actu­al cas­es. If coro­n­avirus infec­tions are actu­al­ly high­er in that coun­try, the fatal­i­ty rate would obvi­ous­ly fall.

    The fatal­i­ty rate of the nov­el coro­n­avirus so far appears to be a frac­tion of that of Severe Acute Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome (9.6%) and Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (34.4%). But most researchers say it’s too ear­ly to say what the actu­al fatal­i­ty rate of the nov­el coro­n­avirus will ulti­mate­ly be.

    “The incu­ba­tion peri­od for SARS was typ­i­cal­ly 2 to 7 days, although in some cas­es it may be as long as 10 days,” the CDC said at the time, most of SARS cas­es were between Novem­ber 2002 and July 2003. “In a very small pro­por­tion of cas­es, incu­ba­tion peri­ods of up to 14 days have been report­ed.”

    Coro­n­avirus has an incu­ba­tion peri­od of up to two weeks. The fatal­i­ty rate can also affect how fast an out­break spreads: If peo­ple die from an ill­ness soon­er, they are less like­ly to be work­ing, shop­ping or fly­ing on air­planes and, thus, less like­ly to spread the virus.

    The major­i­ty of ill­ness­es and deaths are in Hubei Province, the region where the city of Wuhan is locat­ed. The ill­ness has spread to more than 70 coun­tries or ter­ri­to­ries. As a result, WHO has declared a glob­al health emer­gency of inter­na­tion­al con­cern, its high­est alert.

    While the out­break has large­ly affect­ed Chi­na — China’s Hubei Province has report­ed 94% of total deaths and main­land Chi­na has 96% of total cas­es — the emer­gence of COVID-19 clus­ters in these oth­er coun­tries has spooked mar­kets this week, Johns Hop­kins said.

    A pre­vi­ous study pub­lished in JAMA sug­gests some patients may be more con­ta­gious than oth­ers. One patient spread the virus to at least 10 health-care work­ers and four patients at a hos­pi­tal in Wuhan, that study con­clud­ed.

    “In this sin­gle-cen­ter case series of 138 hos­pi­tal­ized patients with con­firmed nov­el coronavirus–infected pneu­mo­nia in Wuhan, Chi­na, pre­sumed hos­pi­tal-relat­ed trans­mis­sion of 2019-nCoV was sus­pect­ed in 41% of patients, 26% of patients received ICU care, and [the] mor­tal­i­ty was 4.3%.”

    Maciej Boni, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of biol­o­gy, at Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, wrote in the online sci­ence mag­a­zine Live­Science that the 2009 H1N1 flu pan­dem­ic ini­tial­ly over­es­ti­mat­ed the final fatal­i­ty rate, while the SARS fatal­i­ty rate rose as the virus spread.

    Ini­tial­ly, sci­en­tists esti­mat­ed a fatal­i­ty rate of 7%. “How­ev­er, the ini­tial­ly report­ed infor­ma­tion of 850 cas­es was a gross under­es­ti­mate,” Boni wrote. “This was sim­ply due to a much larg­er num­ber of mild cas­es that did not report to any health sys­tem and were not count­ed.”

    “After sev­er­al months — when pan­dem­ic data had been col­lect­ed from many coun­tries expe­ri­enc­ing an epi­dem­ic wave — the 2009 influen­za turned out to be much milder than was thought in the ini­tial weeks. Its case fatal­i­ty was low­er than 0.1% and in line with oth­er known human influen­za virus­es.”

    ...

    ————

    “WHO says coro­n­avirus fatal­i­ty rates are high­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought — they also vary wild­ly depend­ing on age, gen­der and coun­try” by Quentin Fot­trell, Mar­ket­Watch, 03/03/2020

    “Glob­al­ly, about 3.4% of report­ed COVID-19 cas­es have died,” Tedros Adhanom Ghe­breye­sus, the direc­tor gen­er­al of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, said at a press brief­ing in Gene­va. That’s more than pre­vi­ous esti­mates that hov­ered around 2% and the influen­za fatal­i­ty rate of less than 1%.”

    The COVID-19 dis­ease has a 3.4% case fatal­i­ty rate glob­al­ly. That’s what WHO’s direc­tor gen­er­al just told the world. He then added that the epi­dem­ic is “affect­ing coun­tries in dif­fer­ent ways”, which appears to be an attempt to address the vast­ly dif­fer­ent case fatal­i­ty rates found in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and even dif­fer­ent regions of Chi­na. And that stark dif­fer­ence in dif­fer­ent parts of the world is cer­tain­ly some­thing they should address­ing. Wuhan’s case fatal­i­ty rates is 2–4 per­cent and 0.7 per­cent out­side of Wuhan. That’s a pret­ty mas­sive dif­fer­ence and it’s not out­ra­geous to imag­ine that a virus might have dif­fer­ent impacts on dif­fer­ent coun­tries. But it is pret­ty out­ra­geous for the direc­tor gen­er­al of WHO to give this new 3.4% case fatal­i­ty rate and point out how those rates are vary­ing across the world with­out imme­di­ate­ly point­ing out one of the obvi­ous pos­si­ble rea­sons for those vast­ly dif­fer­ent case fatal­i­ty rates: dif­fer­ences in the qual­i­ty of the report of the total num­ber of cas­es. It’s the ele­phant in the room with all of these COVID-19 dis­cus­sions. An ele­phant being ignored by the author­i­ties we’re sup­posed to be look­ing to for answers and guid­ance:

    ...
    Tedros said last week the fatal­i­ty rate in Wuhan, Chi­na, con­sid­ered the epi­cen­ter of the out­break, is between 2% and 4%. Out­side of Wuhan, it is thought to be clos­er to 0.7%, although some esti­mates put it at clos­er to 2%. The epi­dem­ic is “affect­ing coun­tries in dif­fer­ent ways,” he added.

    There were 92,818 con­firmed cas­es of COVID-19 and more than 3,100 deaths, pri­mar­i­ly in China’s Hubei Province, and nine report­ed deaths in the U.S., accord­ing to a the lat­est tal­ly pub­lished by the Johns Hop­kins Whit­ing School of Engineering’s Cen­ters for Sys­tems Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing.

    Just how dead­ly is the virus? The med­ical jour­nal JAMA released this paper ana­lyz­ing data from the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion on 72,314 coro­n­avirus cas­es in main­land Chi­na, the fig­ure as of Feb. 11, the largest such sam­ple in a study of this kind.

    The sample’s over­all case-fatal­i­ty rate was 2.3%, in line with the ear­li­er glob­al esti­mates for the virus. No deaths occurred in those aged 9 years and younger, but cas­es in those aged 70 to 79 years had an 8% fatal­i­ty rate and those aged 80 years and old­er had a fatal­i­ty rate of 14.8%.

    No deaths were report­ed among mild and severe cas­es. The fatal­i­ty rate was 49% among crit­i­cal cas­es, and ele­vat­ed among those with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions: 10.5% for peo­ple with car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, 7.3% for dia­betes, 6.3% for chron­ic res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease, 6% for hyper­ten­sion, and 5.6% for can­cer.
    ...

    And note the case fatal­i­ty rates from the offi­cial sta­tis­tics com­ing from the US: there are 118 con­firmed cas­es and 9 deaths. That’s a 7.6% case fatal­i­ty rate based on those offi­cial num­bers. But it’s also a rate that assumes the 118 con­firmed cas­es are ALL of the cas­es in the US which is utter­ly absurd, espe­cial­ly in the face of a grow­ing num­ber of sto­ries about instances of “com­mu­ni­ty spread” in the US. It’s just fac­tu­al­ly wrong to act that these offi­cial case fatal­i­ty rate esti­mates aren’t being over­es­ti­mat­ed right now. And yet this is rarely being acknowl­edged despite our expe­ri­ences like the H1N1 out­break in 2009, where the ini­tial case fatal­i­ty rate was 7% but was even­tu­al­ly down­grad­ed to around 0.1%. We know this over­es­ti­mate is part of the pat­tern of how these nov­el viral out­breaks occur and not acknowl­edg­ing that known pat­tern amounts to fear­mon­ger­ing:

    ...
    Nine peo­ple have died in Wash­ing­ton state of COVID-19, and prompt­ing offi­cials there to declare a state of emer­gency. The U.S. has 118 con­firmed cas­es, John Hop­kins said. Italy has 2,502 cas­es and 79 deaths, South Korea has 5,186 cas­es, and Iran has 2,336 cas­es.

    The high death rate in coun­tries such as Iran (4.4% based on the cur­rent num­ber of con­firmed cas­es) could also be relat­ed to offi­cials in that coun­try under­es­ti­mat­ing the num­ber of actu­al cas­es. If coro­n­avirus infec­tions are actu­al­ly high­er in that coun­try, the fatal­i­ty rate would obvi­ous­ly fall.

    The fatal­i­ty rate of the nov­el coro­n­avirus so far appears to be a frac­tion of that of Severe Acute Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome (9.6%) and Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (34.4%). But most researchers say it’s too ear­ly to say what the actu­al fatal­i­ty rate of the nov­el coro­n­avirus will ulti­mate­ly be.

    ...

    Maciej Boni, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of biol­o­gy, at Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, wrote in the online sci­ence mag­a­zine Live­Science that the 2009 H1N1 flu pan­dem­ic ini­tial­ly over­es­ti­mat­ed the final fatal­i­ty rate, while the SARS fatal­i­ty rate rose as the virus spread.

    Ini­tial­ly, sci­en­tists esti­mat­ed a fatal­i­ty rate of 7%. “How­ev­er, the ini­tial­ly report­ed infor­ma­tion of 850 cas­es was a gross under­es­ti­mate,” Boni wrote. “This was sim­ply due to a much larg­er num­ber of mild cas­es that did not report to any health sys­tem and were not count­ed.”

    “After sev­er­al months — when pan­dem­ic data had been col­lect­ed from many coun­tries expe­ri­enc­ing an epi­dem­ic wave — the 2009 influen­za turned out to be much milder than was thought in the ini­tial weeks. Its case fatal­i­ty was low­er than 0.1% and in line with oth­er known human influen­za virus­es.
    ...

    Now here’s an arti­cle about that same WHO press con­fer­ence (which does­n’t point out the issue of under­count­ing cas­es) that includes a quote from Dr. Mike Ryan, exec­u­tive direc­tor of WHO’s health emer­gen­cies pro­gram, that has the appear­ance of being a point of opti­mism but is real­ly just a call for every coun­tries to react as aggres­sive­ly as pos­si­ble to the spread of the virus. As Ryan put it, “Here we have a dis­ease for which we have no vac­cine, no treat­ment, we don’t ful­ly under­stand trans­mis­sion, we don’t ful­ly under­stand case mor­tal­i­ty, but what we have been gen­uine­ly heart­ened by is that unlike influen­za, where coun­tries have fought back, where they’ve put in place strong mea­sures, we’ve remark­ably seen that the virus is sup­pressed.” In oth­er words, if coun­tries basi­cal­ly shut their soci­eties down that can poten­tial­ly sup­press the spread of the virus and that’s the good news com­ing out of the WHO:

    CNBC

    WHO says coro­n­avirus death rate is 3.4% glob­al­ly, high­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

    Berke­ley Lovelace Jr.
    Noah Hig­gins-Dunn
    Pub­lished Tue, Mar 3 2020 4:28 PM EST Updat­ed

    * World health offi­cials say the mor­tal­i­ty rate for COVID-19 is 3.4% glob­al­ly, high­er than pre­vi­ous esti­mates of about 2%.
    * “Glob­al­ly, about 3.4% of report­ed COVID-19 cas­es have died,” WHO Direc­tor-Gen­er­al Tedros Adhanom Ghe­breye­sus said dur­ing a press brief­ing at the agency’s head­quar­ters in Gene­va.

    World health offi­cials said Tues­day the mor­tal­i­ty rate for COVID-19 is 3.4% glob­al­ly, high­er than pre­vi­ous esti­mates of about 2%.

    “Glob­al­ly, about 3.4% of report­ed COVID-19 cas­es have died,” WHO Direc­tor-Gen­er­al Tedros Adhanom Ghe­breye­sus said dur­ing a press brief­ing at the agency’s head­quar­ters in Gene­va. In com­par­i­son, sea­son­al flu gen­er­al­ly kills far few­er than 1% of those infect­ed, he said.

    The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion had said last week that the mor­tal­i­ty rate of COVID-19 can dif­fer, rang­ing from 0.7% to up to 4%, depend­ing on the qual­i­ty of the health-care sys­tem where it’s treat­ed. Ear­ly in the out­break, sci­en­tists had con­clud­ed the death rate was around 2.3%.

    Dur­ing a press brief­ing Mon­day, WHO offi­cials said they don’t know how COVID-19 behaves, say­ing it’s not like influen­za. They added that while much is known about the sea­son­al flu, such as how it’s trans­mit­ted and what treat­ments work to sup­press the dis­ease, that same infor­ma­tion is still in ques­tion when it comes to the coro­n­avirus.

    ...

    Dr. Mike Ryan, exec­u­tive direc­tor of WHO’s health emer­gen­cies pro­gram, said Mon­day that the coro­n­avirus isn’t trans­mit­ting the same exact way as the flu and health offi­cials have been giv­en a “glim­mer, a chink of light” that the virus could be con­tained.

    “Here we have a dis­ease for which we have no vac­cine, no treat­ment, we don’t ful­ly under­stand trans­mis­sion, we don’t ful­ly under­stand case mor­tal­i­ty, but what we have been gen­uine­ly heart­ened by is that unlike influen­za, where coun­tries have fought back, where they’ve put in place strong mea­sures, we’ve remark­ably seen that the virus is sup­pressed,” Ryan said.

    ————

    “WHO says coro­n­avirus death rate is 3.4% glob­al­ly, high­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought” by Berke­ley Lovelace Jr. and Noah Hig­gins-Dunn, CNBC, 03/03/2020

    “Dr. Mike Ryan, exec­u­tive direc­tor of WHO’s health emer­gen­cies pro­gram, said Mon­day that the coro­n­avirus isn’t trans­mit­ting the same exact way as the flu and health offi­cials have been giv­en a “glim­mer, a chink of light” that the virus could be con­tained.

    There’s a “glim­mer, a chink of light” in the sit­u­a­tion. And that glim­mer is the obser­va­tion that coun­tries that “put in place strong mea­sures” have sup­pressed the spread of the virus. It’s unclear what coun­try he could pos­si­ble be refer­ring to oth­er than Chi­na. Although a num­ber of coun­tries have already closed schools so maybe he was also endors­ing those moves. But over­all, it sounds like the WHO is advo­cat­ing that nation’s basi­cal­ly shut them­selves down in response to this virus. If it turns out that the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus real­ly does have a 2–4% case fatal­i­ty rate these would be rea­son­able rec­om­men­da­tions giv­en that a +2% fatal­i­ty rate would be gen­uine­ly ter­ri­fy­ing giv­en the infec­tious­ness of the virus. But so far every­thing we’re see­ing hints at it being more like 2009 H1N1 out­break with a sig­nif­i­cant under­count­ing of the cas­es and a cor­re­spond­ing infla­tion of the case fatal­i­ty rate.

    So we have a com­bi­na­tion of a down­play­ing of poten­tial treat­ments, an exag­ger­a­tion of the case fatal­i­ty rates, and an advo­ca­cy of nations tak­ing extreme­ly strong mea­sures to con­trol the spread of the virus. It’s an alarm­ing sit­u­a­tion but not just because of the virus.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 4, 2020, 3:19 pm
  7. @Pterrafractyl–

    Wish I could place more stock in the offi­cial qualifications/disclaimers on the drug cock­tail.

    The par­ry­ing of the infor­ma­tion may be due to the mis­use of the term “cure.”

    It IS, quite obvi­ous­ly, a large­ly suc­cess­ful treat­ment.

    Not nec­es­sar­i­ly a cure.

    But giv­en the glob­al pan­ic, eco­nom­ic dis­rup­tion and–again–weaponized anti-Chi­na media treat­ment, it stands in marked con­trast to things like this:

    https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/coronavirus-vaccine-could-add-billions-in-value-to-gilead-161233464.html

    Gilead has been one of Mer­cer’s major hold­ings.

    It is more than a lit­tle inter­est­ing to me that no one is con­nect­ing this out­break to the anti-Chi­na Full Court Press.

    I don’t think WHO can real­ly be trust­ed past a point.

    You are young. I am old.

    I watched them gloss over AIDS and the evi­dence on AIDS being cre­at­ed is over­whelm­ing.

    The mutat­ed mon­key virus to which pure-bred North­ern Europeans–“Aryans”–have a hered­i­tary immu­ni­ty and to which Africans have a hered­i­tary sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty.

    And the epi­cen­ter of AIDS–foretold in a House Appro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee Hear­ing for Fis­cal Year 1969–1970?

    http://spitfirelist.com/for-the-record/ftr-686-update-on-the-update-on-the-national-cancer-institutes-viral-cancer-program-biological-warfare-and-aids/

    282 retweets is noth­ing in the present social media envi­ron­ment, BTW.

    Inter­est­ing that some­thing so small drew what is termed “factcheck­ing” rebuke.

    I con­tin­ue to find the lack of cov­er­age sus­pect.

    No few­er than three arti­cles in the New York Times about Gilead.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | March 4, 2020, 5:07 pm
  8. @Pterrafractyl–

    Actu­al­ly, upon fur­ther reflec­tion, I find dis­cus­sion of the Thai “treatment”–not “cure” but “treat­ment” and damned effec­tive, appar­ent­ly, at that–more than sus­pi­cious giv­en the INSANE cov­er­age of this out­break

    Glob­al econ­o­my tanking–not just busi­ness­es with sup­ply chain in China–but restau­rants, tourism (again, not just Chi­na) and many things hav­ing noth­ing to do with Chi­na.

    Gov­ern­ments trans­fixed, the pub­lic pan­icked, equi­ties mar­kets tank­ing, cen­tral banks flail­ing about vain­ly.

    This is delib­er­ate fear-mon­ger­ing on an almost unimag­in­able scale.

    The virus just isn’t that damned seri­ous.

    The flu out­break in U.S. two sea­sons ago was much, much worse.

    Yet, none of this Chick­en Lit­tle jour­nal­ism.

    And a sto­ry re-tweet­ed “hun­dreds” of times draws scruti­ny?!

    Hell, if Alexan­dria Oca­sio “Chan­dra Bose” re-tweet­ed it it would have had mil­lions of re-tweets!

    How come NO cov­er­age of the Thai doc­tors’ dis­cov­ery in U.S. media at all, at least as of a cou­ple of weeks ago.

    If a jan­i­tor in St. Louis fart­ed and his fart was found to have some genet­ic mate­r­i­al from Covid-19, it would be front page news and St. Louis would be in lock­down.

    Since the virus can be TREATED–not “cured” but TREATED, why not at least cov­er it, giv­en the orgias­tic, pro­pa­gan­dized and sen­sa­tion­al­ist cov­er­age of the phe­nom­e­non?

    Cough, Cough (oh my God, I’m dying!),

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | March 4, 2020, 5:32 pm
  9. Coro­n­avirus Epi­dem­ic Update 11: Antivi­ral Drugs, Treat­ment Tri­als for nCoV (Remde­sivir, Chloro­quine) – Feb 5, 2020
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfGpdFNHoqQ

    This video by Med­Cram, who pro­duces med­ical lec­tures for med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, explains Remde­sivir (mfg. by Gilead) was giv­en to a covid-19 patient in Wash­ing­ton under “com­pas­sion­ate use” to see if it works. With­in 1 day, the patient felt bet­ter and by the 4th day, the fever had gone away. But that’s just a sin­gle case. Now, they’re doing tri­als in Chi­na to see if it works on a larg­er num­ber of peo­ple and they should know by the end of April. The oth­er drug they looked at is Chloro­quine (gener­ic). He also briefly men­tioned the drugs they used in Thai­land at the end.

    Posted by Mother Muckraker | March 4, 2020, 10:22 pm
  10. @Dave: Here’s a series of arti­cles about the steps cur­rent­ly under­way to devel­op drugs to treat COVID-19 in rela­tion to the “Thai cock­tail” mix of oseltamivir (Tam­i­flu) with a pair of HIV anti­retro­vi­rals (lopinavir + riton­avir) vs the remde­sivir alter­na­tive devel­oped by Gilead. Over­all, it appears that the WHO and many of the experts are strong­ly push­ing for remde­sivir over the “Thai cock­tail” mix. It’s not entire­ly clear why they are so dis­mis­sive of the “Thai cock­tail” but it sounds like remde­sivir is more specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ing coro­n­avirus­es and that’s why it’s being pre­ferred.

    Over­all, it looks like remde­sivir was the drug the experts ini­tial­ly eyed as a pos­si­ble treat­ment because it had been test­ed against a broad spec­trum of coro­n­avirus­es before and there were already clin­i­cal tri­als under­way before the first reports of the suc­cess of the “Thai cock­tail” in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary. About a day after that ini­tial “Thai Cock­tail” suc­cess reports we heard that Gilead was start­ing clin­i­cal tri­als in Chi­na in con­cert with the Chi­nese author­i­ties.

    So part of the mys­tery of the lack of report­ing on pos­si­ble suc­cess­ful treat­ments of the coro­n­avirus and the WHO’s offi­cial state­ments (as of Feb 14th) that there were “no spe­cif­ic med­i­cine” to pre­vent or treat the coro­n­avirus includes the mys­tery of why there’s been almost no cov­er­age or acknowl­edge­ment of the suc­cess of remde­sivir too. It does seem to be pret­ty effec­tive. But as we’re going to see in the third arti­cle below, it turns out there was anoth­er sto­ry out of Thai­land about a woman mak­ing a remark­able improve­ment on the “Thai cock­tail” mix that not only rapid­ly clear up her symp­toms but had her clear of the virus entire­ly with­in 10 days. This was on Feb­ru­ary 20th and there’s been almost no cov­er­age of this case.

    It sounds like the clin­i­cal tri­als of remde­sivir are expect­ed to be com­plet­ed by ear­ly April and tri­als of oth­er drug cock­tails — includ­ing lopinavir + riton­avir (a com­bi­na­tion brand­ed as “Kale­tra”) — are expect­ed to start being com­plet­ed by the end of May. So remde­sivir is on track to being the only offi­cial­ly accept­ed cure for COVID-19 for a cou­ple of months before oth­er treat­ments are val­i­dat­ed. And it appears that the offi­cial sto­ry is going to be that there are no known treat­ments for COVID-10 until those clin­i­cal tri­als fin­ish and con­clude that a drugs regime is both safe and effec­tive. It’s going to be very inter­est­ing to see how the cov­er­age of this dis­ease shifts after the first drugs have com­plet­ed clin­i­cal tri­als, espe­cial­ly remde­sivir since that seems to be the drug the WHO is active­ly push­ing.

    Ok, first here’s a Febuary 1st arti­cle that describes how a patient in Wash­ing­ton State saw their con­di­tion dra­mat­i­cal­ly improve after treat­ment with remde­sivir.

    :

    Williamette Week

    Wash­ing­ton Coro­n­avirus Patient Is Recov­er­ing After Receiv­ing a Tri­al of an Exper­i­men­tal Antivi­ral Drug
    The patient is still in the hos­pi­tal, but all of his symp­toms except a cough have resolved.

    By Elise Her­ron |
    Pub­lished Feb­ru­ary 1 Updat­ed Feb­ru­ary 1

    The first per­son in the Pacif­ic North­west, and the Unit­ed States, to become infect­ed with the Wuhan coro­n­avirus is recov­er­ing in the hos­pi­tal after receiv­ing a pos­si­ble new treat­ment.

    The patient, a 35-year-old man, admit­ted him­self to an urgent care clin­ic in Sno­homish Coun­ty, Wash­ing­ton on Jan. 19 after return­ing from a trip to Wuhan, accord­ing to a New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine report on the case..

    First, it appears the Wash­ing­ton coro­n­avirus patient has large­ly recov­ered, accord­ing to a write­up today in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, which described his #nCoV2019 symp­toms as large­ly resolved, although he’s still in iso­la­tion.https://t.co/l70gkHM9dS— Tom James (@tomjames206) Jan­u­ary 31, 2020

    “The patient stat­ed that he had seen a health alert from the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) about the nov­el coro­n­avirus out­break in Chi­na and, because of his symp­toms and recent trav­el, decid­ed to see a health care provider,” the report reads. “Giv­en the patien­t’s trav­el his­to­ry, the local and state health depart­ments were imme­di­ate­ly noti­fied.”

    After test­ing pos­i­tive for the dead­ly coro­n­avirus, the patient was admit­ted to an iso­la­tion unit at Prov­i­dence Region­al Med­ical Cen­ter. On his sixth day of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, accord­ing to the NEJM, “clin­i­cians pur­sued com­pas­sion­ate use of an inves­ti­ga­tion­al antivi­ral ther­a­py.”

    After treat­ment with the antivi­ral, Remde­sivir, “the patien­t’s clin­i­cal con­di­tion improved.” The patient is still in the hos­pi­tal, but all of his symp­toms except a cough have resolved.

    Remde­sivir is made by the drug com­pa­ny Gilead Sci­ences. It is not yet licensed or approved but it is being test­ed as a coro­n­avirus treat­ment.

    ...

    ———-

    “Wash­ing­ton Coro­n­avirus Patient Is Recov­er­ing After Receiv­ing a Tri­al of an Exper­i­men­tal Antivi­ral Drug” by Elise Her­ron; Williamette Week; 02/01/2020

    “After treat­ment with the antivi­ral, Remde­sivir, “the patien­t’s clin­i­cal con­di­tion improved.” The patient is still in the hos­pi­tal, but all of his symp­toms except a cough have resolved.”

    So that as the news on Feb­ru­ary 1st. Remde­sivir is effec­tive in at least that one patient.

    Now here’s a quick Feb 2 report on the suc­cess of the “Thai cock­tail” mix of lopinavir + riton­avir (Kale­tra) with oseltamivir (Tam­i­flu). As the arti­cle notes, the woman actu­al­ly test­ed neg­a­tive for the virus 48 hours after the treat­ment. Recall how that Feb 17th AFP “Fact Check” arti­cle claimed that the Thai doc­tors said the treat­ment did­n’t actu­al­ly “cure” the woman because it did­n’t actu­al­ly cure her of the viral infec­tion. Accord­ing to these ini­tial reports it did indeed cure her of it:

    AFP

    Thai­land sees appar­ent suc­cess treat­ing virus with drug cock­tail

    Issued on: 02/02/2020 — 14:52
    Mod­i­fied: 02/02/2020 — 14:50

    Bangkok (AFP)

    A Chi­nese woman infect­ed with the new coro­n­avirus showed a dra­mat­ic improve­ment after she was treat­ed with a cock­tail of anti-virals used to treat flu and HIV, Thai­land’s health min­istry said Sun­day.

    The 71-year-old patient test­ed neg­a­tive for the virus 48 hours after Thai doc­tors admin­is­tered the com­bi­na­tion, doc­tor Kriengsak Atti­porn­wanich dur­ing the min­istry’s dai­ly press brief­ing.

    “The lab result of pos­i­tive on the coro­n­avirus turned neg­a­tive in 48 hours,” Kriengsak said.

    “From being exhaust­ed before, she could sit up in bed 12 hours lat­er.”

    The doc­tors com­bined the anti-flu drug oseltamivir with lopinavir and riton­avir, anti-virals used to treat HIV, Kriengsak said, adding the min­istry was await­ing research results to prove the find­ings.

    The news comes as the new virus claimed its first life out­side Chi­na — a 44-year-old Chi­nese man who died in the Philip­pines — while the death toll in Chi­na has soared above 300.

    ...

    In a video released Sun­day, health min­is­ter Anutin Charn­vi­rakul vis­it­ed a patient from Wuhan who had recov­ered from the coro­n­avirus, chat­ting with her ami­ca­bly in Man­darin as she thanked him and the med­ical staff.

    ...

    ———–

    “Thai­land sees appar­ent suc­cess treat­ing virus with drug cock­tail”; AFP; 02/02/2020

    “The 71-year-old patient test­ed neg­a­tive for the virus 48 hours after Thai doc­tors admin­is­tered the com­bi­na­tion, doc­tor Kriengsak Atti­porn­wanich dur­ing the min­istry’s dai­ly press brief­ing.”

    A neg­a­tive test 48 hours lat­er sounds like a pret­ty effec­tive “cure”. Per­haps she lat­er relapsed but there don’t appear to be reports on that.

    Now here’s a Feb­ru­ary 20 arti­cle in the Bangkok Post about a 74 year old woman with a severe case of COVID-19 relat­ed pneu­mo­nia. She was ini­tial­ly first just treat­ed with lopinavir and riton­avir (Kale­tra) but not oseltamivir. After five days she failed to recov­er to they added the oseltamivir and she recov­ered in 48 hours and test­ed neg­a­tive for the virus. So it looks like lopinavir and riton­avir alone might help, but it’s when you add oseltamivir to the mix that doc­tors are find­ing these remark­able results. The case is one of four exper­i­men­tal cas­es involv­ing this “Thai cock­tail” that Thai health author­i­ties were work­ing on at the time:

    Bangkok Post

    Woman, 74, recov­ers from virus after ‘Thai cock­tail’

    writer: Apinya Wipatay­otin
    pub­lished : 18 Feb 2020 at 17:24

    An elder­ly Chi­nese woman who received a “Thai cock­tail” of HIV and flu drugs to treat severe Covid-19-relat­ed pneu­mo­nia left hos­pi­tal on Tues­day after mak­ing a full recov­ery, a gov­ern­ment offi­cial said.

    Vis­it­ing the 74-year-old woman at Bangkok’s Rajvithi Hos­pi­tal, Deputy Pub­lic Health Min­is­ter Sathit Pitutecha said she was suf­fer­ing from severe pneu­mo­nia when she was trans­ferred there from a pri­vate hos­pi­tal in Hua Hin dis­trict of Pra­chuap Khiri Khan on Jan 29.

    Accord­ing to Mr Sathit, the woman was first treat­ed with two anti-HIV med­ica­tions — lopinavir and riton­avir — for five days, but failed to recov­er. Doc­tors at Rajvithi Hos­pi­tal then added the flu drug oseltamivir to her pre­scrip­tion, lead­ing to a marked improve­ment. Her severe pneu­mo­nia abat­ed in 8–12 hours, and after 48 hours she test­ed neg­a­tive for Covid-19.

    She was giv­en the cock­tail of drugs for the next 10 days, and no trace of the virus was found in four sub­se­quent tests over 20 days.

    “This shows she ful­ly recov­ered from the dis­ease and can leave the hos­pi­tal,” Mr Sathit said. “She will under­go anoth­er phys­i­cal check-up in a few weeks to find out if she is strong enough to board a plane back home.”

    Dr Narong Aphikul­vanich, deputy direc­tor-gen­er­al of the Depart­ment of Med­ical Ser­vices, said the woman was the first patient to receive the “Thai cock­tail” of drugs now being admin­is­tered to three oth­er Chi­nese peo­ple and a Thai patient.

    Dr Som­sak Akksilp, direc­tor-gen­er­al of the depart­ment, said the doc­tors who treat­ed the Chi­nese woman were writ­ing a research report for inter­na­tion­al pub­li­ca­tion.

    The woman was one of two Chi­nese patients allowed to leave hos­pi­tal on Tues­day. The oth­er, aged 69, was treat­ed at the Cen­tral Chest Insti­tute in Non­thaburi province.

    The num­ber of Covid-19 patients in Thai­land to make a full recov­ery is now 17, while the num­ber of con­firmed cas­es remained unchanged at 35 on Tues­day. Since Jan 3, a total of 817 patients have been placed under inves­ti­ga­tion and 82 of them were hos­pi­talised.

    Mean­while, author­i­ties rec­om­mend­ed that peo­ple post­pone trips to Japan, Sin­ga­pore and Israel and health organ­is­ers put off large meet­ings and events in an effort to con­trol the spread of the coro­n­avirus.
    s

    ...

    ————

    “Woman, 74, recov­ers from virus after ‘Thai cock­tail’ ” by Apinya Wipatay­otin; Bangkok Post; 02/18/2020

    “Accord­ing to Mr Sathit, the woman was first treat­ed with two anti-HIV med­ica­tions — lopinavir and riton­avir — for five days, but failed to recov­er. Doc­tors at Rajvithi Hos­pi­tal then added the flu drug oseltamivir to her pre­scrip­tion, lead­ing to a marked improve­ment. Her severe pneu­mo­nia abat­ed in 8–12 hours, and after 48 hours she test­ed neg­a­tive for Covid-19.

    Once again, we find a severe case of pneu­mo­nia abat­ing and a neg­a­tive text for COVID-19 after just 48 hours on the “Thai cock­tail”, much like that Feb 2 case. She was left on the cock­tail for anoth­er 10 days and no trace of the virus was found over the next 20 days. That sure sounds like a cure:

    ...
    She was giv­en the cock­tail of drugs for the next 10 days, and no trace of the virus was found in four sub­se­quent tests over 20 days.

    “This shows she ful­ly recov­ered from the dis­ease and can leave the hos­pi­tal,” Mr Sathit said. “She will under­go anoth­er phys­i­cal check-up in a few weeks to find out if she is strong enough to board a plane back home.”
    ...

    And there’s four oth­er peo­ple also on the cock­tail. This is as of Feb­ru­ary 20th so it would be inter­est­ing to know what the fol­low results are, whether pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive. Also note how the results of the suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed patient are going to be used for a research report for inter­na­tion­al pub­li­ca­tion. That’s going to be some­thing to watch in terms of the rel­a­tive lack of inter­est­ing in the “Thai cock­tail”:

    ...
    Dr Narong Aphikul­vanich, deputy direc­tor-gen­er­al of the Depart­ment of Med­ical Ser­vices, said the woman was the first patient to receive the “Thai cock­tail” of drugs now being admin­is­tered to three oth­er Chi­nese peo­ple and a Thai patient.

    Dr Som­sak Akksilp, direc­tor-gen­er­al of the depart­ment, said the doc­tors who treat­ed the Chi­nese woman were writ­ing a research report for inter­na­tion­al pub­li­ca­tion.
    ...

    Ok, now here’s a Feb 25 arti­cle that men­tions how NIH sci­en­tists began test­ing remde­sivir on a patient infect­ed with SARS-CoV­‑2 (the virus that caus­es COVID-19). The arti­cle describes it as the first tri­al test­ing a drug for treat­ing COVID-19, although note that it’s real­ly just the first tri­al in the US. There had already been clin­i­cal tri­als in Chi­na. The arti­cle also men­tions a vac­cine being devel­oped by Mod­er­na. It’s a reminder that it’s very pos­si­ble an annu­al coro­n­avirus vac­cine could become part of the annu­al vac­cine reg­i­ment many peo­ple take along side the tra­di­tion­al flu vac­cine:

    Time

    COVID-19 Vac­cine Shipped, and Drug Tri­als Start

    By Alice Park
    Feb­ru­ary 25, 2020

    Mod­er­na Ther­a­peu­tics, a biotech com­pa­ny based in Cam­bridge, Mass., has shipped the first batch­es of its COVID-19 vac­cine. The vac­cine was cre­at­ed just 42 days after the genet­ic sequence of the COVID_19 virus, called SARS-CoV­‑2, was released by Chi­nese researchers in mid-Jan­u­ary. The first vials were sent to the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases (NIAID), part of the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) in Bethes­da, MD, which will ready the vac­cine for human test­ing as ear­ly as April.

    NIH sci­en­tists also began test­ing an antivi­ral drug called remde­sivir that had been devel­oped for Ebo­la, on a patient infect­ed with SARS-CoV­‑2. The tri­al is the first to test a drug for treat­ing COVID-19, and will be led by a team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Med­ical Cen­ter. The first patient to vol­un­teer for the ground-break­ing study is a pas­sen­ger who was brought back to the US after test­ing pos­i­tive for the dis­ease aboard the Dia­mond Princess. Oth­ers diag­nosed with COVID-19 who have been hos­pi­tal­ized will also be part of the study.

    Remde­sivir showed encour­ag­ing results among ani­mals infect­ed with two relat­ed coro­n­avirus­es, one respon­si­ble for severe acute res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (SARS) and anoth­er for caus­ing Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (MERS). Vol­un­teers will be ran­dom­ly assigned to receive either the drug or a place­bo intra­venous­ly for 10 days, and they will have blood tests and nose and throat swabs tak­en every two days to track the amount of virus in their bod­ies. Even if the drug shows some effi­ca­cy in keep­ing blood lev­els of SARS-CoV­‑2 from grow­ing, it could help to con­tain spread of the infec­tion.

    Moderna’s vac­cine against COVID-19 was devel­oped in record time because it’s based on a rel­a­tive­ly new genet­ic method that does not require grow­ing huge amounts of virus..= Instead, the vac­cine is packed with mRNA, the genet­ic mate­r­i­al that comes from DNA and makes pro­teins. Mod­er­na loads its vac­cine with mRNA that codes for the right coro­n­avirus pro­teins which then get inject­ed into the body. Immune cells in the lymph nodes can process that mRNA and start mak­ing the pro­tein in just the right way for oth­er immune cells to rec­og­nize and mark them for destruc­tion.

    ...

    ———–

    “COVID-19 Vac­cine Shipped, and Drug Tri­als Start” by Alice Park; Time; 02/25/2020

    “NIH sci­en­tists also began test­ing an antivi­ral drug called remde­sivir that had been devel­oped for Ebo­la, on a patient infect­ed with SARS-CoV­‑2. The tri­al is the first to test a drug for treat­ing COVID-19, and will be led by a team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Med­ical Cen­ter. The first patient to vol­un­teer for the ground-break­ing study is a pas­sen­ger who was brought back to the US after test­ing pos­i­tive for the dis­ease aboard the Dia­mond Princess. Oth­ers diag­nosed with COVID-19 who have been hos­pi­tal­ized will also be part of the study.”

    So the first tri­al in the US was get­ting under­way a cou­ple of weeks ago involv­ing remde­sivir. Note that Gilead announced its planned clin­i­cal tri­als of remde­sivir in Chi­na — in part­ner­ship with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment — on Feb­ru­ary 3, which would have been like a day after the announce­ment of the recov­ered patient in Thai­land using the “Thai Cock­tail”. So clin­i­cal tri­als of remde­sivir were prob­a­bly already under­way in Chi­na.

    Ok, now here’s a Feb­ru­ary 28 arti­cle about the hunt for a treat­ment. It describes the inter­est in both remde­sivir and the lopinavir/ritonavir (Kale­tra) com­bi­na­tion (but does­nt men­tion the lopinavir/ritonavir + oseltamivir com­bi­na­tion). The arti­cle notes that, like remde­sivir, Kale­tra has also been test­ed with the ear­li­er SARS and MERS coro­n­avirus out­breaks. The results were unclear. Stud­ies with SARS patients did show an improve­ment under Kale­tra but the study design was such that they could­n’t con­clude that the improve­ment was due to the drug.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, the direc­tor of the Cen­ter for HIV Cure Research at Glad­stone Insti­tutes warned about the pos­si­ble devel­op­ment of drug-resis­tant strains. “Intro­duc­ing one drug at a time is a recipe for resis­tance, like we saw in HIV,” he said. “We don’t have the lux­u­ry of four dif­fer­ent antivi­rals against coro­n­avirus, and hope­ful­ly we don’t have to deal with [resis­tance] down the road.” So a cock­tail of antivi­rals would be ide­al from a drug resis­tance stand­point. It’s unclear why the lopinavir/ritonavir + oseltamivir does­n’t help avoid that resis­tance prob­lem.

    The direct also remarks that if the lopinavir/ritonavir com­bi­na­tion does end up being effec­tive that would be “very lucky” as “these drugs are like lock-and-key” in terms of treat­ing virus­es. As he put it, “It would be unex­pect­ed the key to one house would open the door to anoth­er house, but it might”. So there appears to be an expec­ta­tion in the field that the lopinavir/ritonavir com­bi­na­tion prob­a­bly won’t work well (despite the evi­dence com­ing out of Thai­land):

    Med­Page Today

    COVID-19 Ther­a­pies: Fol­low­ing a ‘Blue­print’ From Oth­er Virus­es
    — Pri­or research efforts laid ground­work for sev­er­al ther­a­pies, experts say

    by Mol­ly Walk­er, Asso­ciate Edi­tor, Med­Page Today Feb­ru­ary 26, 2020
    Last Updat­ed Feb­ru­ary 28, 2020

    How do you treat an ill­ness like COVID-19 for which there are no FDA-approved treat­ments? Cap­i­tal­ize on research on oth­er virus­es, experts told Med­Page Today.

    Unlike influen­za and oth­er virus­es, noth­ing is approved specif­i­cal­ly to treat COVID-19, although that has­n’t stopped clin­i­cians in Chi­na and around the world from try­ing dif­fer­ent ther­a­pies.

    Warn­er Greene, MD, PhD, of Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cis­co (UCSF) and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for HIV Cure Research at Glad­stone Insti­tutes, told Med­Page Today that researchers ide­al­ly should be devel­op­ing ther­a­pies to treat SARS-CoV2 coro­n­avirus at all stages of its life cycle.

    “Intro­duc­ing one drug at a time is a recipe for resis­tance, like we saw in HIV,” he said. “We don’t have the lux­u­ry of four dif­fer­ent antivi­rals against coro­n­avirus, and hope­ful­ly we don’t have to deal with [resis­tance] down the road.”

    Remde­sivir, an inves­ti­ga­tion­al ther­a­py devel­oped by Gilead Sci­ences specif­i­cal­ly to treat Ebo­la, has been the high­est-pro­file can­di­date so far. Two clin­i­cal tri­als of the ther­a­py are cur­rent­ly ongo­ing in Chi­na, and on Tues­day, the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases announced an iden­ti­cal tri­al in the U.S. involv­ing the drug.

    Hos­pi­tal­ized adults diag­nosed with COVID-19 (diag­nosed SARS-CoV2 infec­tion with lung involve­ment) will be eli­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate. Par­tic­i­pants will pro­vide blood sam­ples and nose and throat swabs, and out­comes from the inter­ven­tion and con­trol groups will be com­pared on day 15 to deter­mine clin­i­cal ben­e­fit.

    Already one patient has been enrolled: an Amer­i­can recent­ly repa­tri­at­ed from the Dia­mond Princess cruise ship.

    Greene explained that remde­sivir works by tar­get­ing a viral RNA poly­merase.

    “They tried to do it in Ebo­la and it did­n’t work there. Maybe it will work on this RNA poly­merase,” he said.

    CNN report­ed a World Health Orga­ni­za­tion offi­cial recent­ly said that remde­sivir “may have real effi­ca­cy” against coro­n­avirus, though with clin­i­cal tri­als just get­ting under­way, the basis for his opti­mism was unclear.

    Anoth­er drug under inves­ti­ga­tion to treat COVID-19 is lopinavir/ritonavir (Kale­tra), a pro­tease inhibitor com­bi­na­tion used to treat HIV. Doc­tors in Thai­land said it showed effi­ca­cy against patients with severe coro­n­avirus. That led to a run on the drug in Chi­na, anec­do­tal reports indi­cat­ed, such that Chi­nese HIV patients were unable to obtain it.

    “If [lopinavir/ritonavir] works, it would do so by cross-react­ing and inhibit­ing one of the [SARS-CoV2] pro­teas­es present,” Greene said.

    But he described such a sit­u­a­tion as “very lucky” as “these drugs are like lock-and-key” in terms of treat­ing virus­es.

    “It would be unex­pect­ed the key to one house would open the door to anoth­er house, but it might,” Greene explained.

    Peter Hunt, MD, also of UCSF, told Med­Page Today that this isn’t the first time lopinavir/ritonavir has been tried in coro­n­avirus out­breaks.

    “[The drug] has been test­ed in ani­mal mod­els of SARS and MERS, and with con­flict­ing data. It was giv­en to peo­ple with SARS with report­ed improved respons­es com­pared to his­tor­i­cal con­trols, but the study design made it impos­si­ble to tell if this was a real effect,” he said.

    At a Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices (HHS) brief­ing on Tues­day, offi­cials said they have received “hun­dreds of pro­pos­als for ther­a­peu­tics,” includ­ing from Janssen and Regen­eron. Recent­ly, HHS announced it will use an exist­ing part­ner­ship with Janssen to devel­op treat­ments for coro­n­avirus infec­tion, with the com­pa­ny iden­ti­fy­ing com­pounds that have antivi­ral activ­i­ty against SARS-CoV2.

    Regen­eron devel­oped a mon­o­clon­al anti­body ther­a­py that showed effi­ca­cy against Ebo­la in the same tri­al that test­ed remde­sivir in these patients.

    And because it worked in Ebo­la, using “con­va­les­cent serum” from patients who recov­ered from the dis­ease could work against COVID-19, Greene said.

    “Mon­o­clon­al anti­bod­ies in Ebo­la, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you catch it ear­ly, can get amaz­ing clin­i­cal respons­es. There’s lots of rea­son to hope,” he not­ed.

    Suc­cess­ful treat­ment strate­gies in Ebo­la have involved a ring vac­ci­na­tion strat­e­gy of pro­tec­tion around peo­ple get­ting treat­ed with mon­o­clon­al anti­bod­ies, Greene said.

    Obvi­ous­ly, that depends on get­ting a viable SARS-CoV2 vac­cine. But he added that he does­n’t fore­see the same chal­lenges seen with HIV because coro­n­avirus “does­n’t attack CD4 T‑cells, it does­n’t take out the immune sys­tem like HIV does.”

    ...

    ————

    “COVID-19 Ther­a­pies: Fol­low­ing a ‘Blue­print’ From Oth­er Virus­es” by Mol­ly Walk­er; Med­Page Today; 02/26/2020

    “Remde­sivir, an inves­ti­ga­tion­al ther­a­py devel­oped by Gilead Sci­ences specif­i­cal­ly to treat Ebo­la, has been the high­est-pro­file can­di­date so far. Two clin­i­cal tri­als of the ther­a­py are cur­rent­ly ongo­ing in Chi­na, and on Tues­day, the Nation­al Insti­tute of Aller­gy and Infec­tious Dis­eases announced an iden­ti­cal tri­al in the U.S. involv­ing the drug.”

    Remde­sivir has indeed been the high­est-pro­file can­di­date so far. And it did have the pos­i­tive case in Wash­ing­ton State so there’s at least some basis for opti­mism based on that case. Although as the arti­cle notes, when remde­sivir was test­ed against Ebo­la it did­n’t real­ly work that well (note, Ebo­la isn’t a coro­n­avirus). But one patient has been enrolled in the study so far as of a week ago so that study is at least start­ed:

    ...
    Hos­pi­tal­ized adults diag­nosed with COVID-19 (diag­nosed SARS-CoV2 infec­tion with lung involve­ment) will be eli­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate. Par­tic­i­pants will pro­vide blood sam­ples and nose and throat swabs, and out­comes from the inter­ven­tion and con­trol groups will be com­pared on day 15 to deter­mine clin­i­cal ben­e­fit.

    Already one patient has been enrolled: an Amer­i­can recent­ly repa­tri­at­ed from the Dia­mond Princess cruise ship.

    Greene explained that remde­sivir works by tar­get­ing a viral RNA poly­merase.

    “They tried to do it in Ebo­la and it did­n’t work there. Maybe it will work on this RNA poly­merase,” he said.

    CNN report­ed a World Health Orga­ni­za­tion offi­cial recent­ly said that remde­sivir “may have real effi­ca­cy” against coro­n­avirus, though with clin­i­cal tri­als just get­ting under­way, the basis for his opti­mism was unclear.
    ...

    Now note the inter­est­ing caveats from Warn­er Greene, MD, PhD, of Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cis­co (UCSF) and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for HIV Cure Research at Glad­stone Insti­tutes about the util­i­ty of using cock­tails of drugs to avoid the devel­op­ment of drug resis­tance. Greene also notes the lopinavir/ritonavir (Kale­tra) and describes it as “unex­pect­ed” and “very lucky” if the those drugs actu­al­ly worked against the coro­n­avirus since the drugs were designed to tar­get HIV pro­teas­es:

    ...
    Warn­er Greene, MD, PhD, of Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cis­co (UCSF) and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for HIV Cure Research at Glad­stone Insti­tutes, told Med­Page Today that researchers ide­al­ly should be devel­op­ing ther­a­pies to treat SARS-CoV2 coro­n­avirus at all stages of its life cycle.

    “Intro­duc­ing one drug at a time is a recipe for resis­tance, like we saw in HIV,” he said. “We don’t have the lux­u­ry of four dif­fer­ent antivi­rals against coro­n­avirus, and hope­ful­ly we don’t have to deal with [resis­tance] down the road.”

    ...

    Anoth­er drug under inves­ti­ga­tion to treat COVID-19 is lopinavir/ritonavir (Kale­tra), a pro­tease inhibitor com­bi­na­tion used to treat HIV. Doc­tors in Thai­land said it showed effi­ca­cy against patients with severe coro­n­avirus. That led to a run on the drug in Chi­na, anec­do­tal reports indi­cat­ed, such that Chi­nese HIV patients were unable to obtain it.

    “If [lopinavir/ritonavir] works, it would do so by cross-react­ing and inhibit­ing one of the [SARS-CoV2] pro­teas­es present,” Greene said.

    But he described such a sit­u­a­tion as “very lucky” as “these drugs are like lock-and-key” in terms of treat­ing virus­es.

    “It would be unex­pect­ed the key to one house would open the door to anoth­er house, but it might,” Greene explained.
    ...

    And yet anoth­er UCSF researcher com­ments that this isn’t the first time lopinavir/ritonavir has been tried in coro­n­avirus out­breaks and that it showed poten­tial­ly pos­i­tive results with peo­ple infect­ed with SARS. So it’s unclear why there’s so much skep­ti­cism about its effi­ca­cy against this coro­n­avirus:

    ...
    Peter Hunt, MD, also of UCSF, told Med­Page Today that this isn’t the first time lopinavir/ritonavir has been tried in coro­n­avirus out­breaks.

    “[The drug] has been test­ed in ani­mal mod­els of SARS and MERS, and with con­flict­ing data. It was giv­en to peo­ple with SARS with report­ed improved respons­es com­pared to his­tor­i­cal con­trols, but the study design made it impos­si­ble to tell if this was a real effect,” he said.
    ...

    And for some there’s no men­tion at all about the remark­able suc­cess­es of the lopinavir/ritonavir + oseltamivir com­bi­na­tion.

    Final­ly, here’s a Feb­ru­ary 27th Nature Biotech­nol­o­gy news arti­cle that’s sum­ma­riz­ing the var­i­ous attempts to devel­op drugs and vac­cines for COVID-19. The arti­cle men­tions how, from the start of the out­break, med­ical prac­ti­cioners have fol­lowed Chi­na’s guide­lines set up in Jan­u­ary. Those guide­lines includ­ed treat­ing hos­pi­tal­ized patients with a‑interferon (alpha-inter­fon) com­bined with Kale­tra. So a cock­tail of Kale­tra (lopinavir/ritonavir) + a‑interferon has been rec­om­mend­ed by Chi­nese author­i­ties from the very begin­ning and used on hos­pi­tal­ized patients. It makes the seem­ing lack of inter­est in the lopinavir/ritonavir + oseltamivir “Thai cock­tail” all the more bewil­der­ing. Are patients out­side of Thai­land being giv­en that cock­tail at all? Or is every­one else wait­ing for clin­i­cal tri­als to be com­plet­ed?

    The arti­cle notes that clin­i­cal tri­als of the “Thai cock­tail” are planned, along with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent drugs that are being tried in com­bi­na­tion with Kale­tra. So the “Thai cock­tail” is under­go­ing clin­i­cal tri­als, but it’s not clear that the Thai cock­tail clin­i­cal tri­als are being giv­en a pri­or­i­ty.

    At the same time, the arti­cle includes more com­ments from experts down­play­ing the poten­tial util­i­ty of lopinavir/ritonavir and pro­mot­ing remde­sivir. For exam­ple, Erik De Cler­cq, of the Rega Insti­tute for Med­ical Research in Leu­ven, Bel­gium, tells us that, “We should stay away from antivi­rals known to be act­ing at tar­gets not play­ing a role in the repli­ca­tion of coro­n­avirus­es.” That would include lopinavir/ritonavir, which are tar­get­ed at the HIV pro­tease. De Cler­cq instead favor tar­get­ing a virus-spe­cif­ic pro­tein such as the RNA-depen­dent RNA poly­merase. That’s the pro­tein that remde­sivir tar­gets. It’s a con­fus­ing point made by De Cler­cq because the arti­cle also notes that lopinavir/ritonavir work by inhibit­ing viral repli­ca­tion.

    Bryan Mounce, assis­tant pro­fes­sor, Depart­ment of Micro­bi­ol­o­gy and Immunol­o­gy, Loy­ola Uni­ver­si­ty Chica­go, adds that, “Broad-spec­trum agents are ide­al­ly suit­ed for out­break sit­u­a­tions where we don’t entire­ly know what we are deal­ing with in terms of pathogens...Although we might not under­stand all the mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing their antivi­ral activ­i­ty, it is impor­tant that they have as few side effects as pos­si­ble.” Remde­sivir is one of those broad-spec­trum agents. And his note about as few side effects as pos­si­ble is a valid point. It rais­es the ques­tion of what the actu­al side effects are of remde­sivir vs the “Thai cock­tail”. It’s very pos­si­ble the “Thai cock­tail” has more side effects, but there’s been no report­ing on that yet.

    George Painter, pres­i­dent of the Emory Insti­tute for Drug Devel­op­ment, Emory Uni­ver­si­ty, also cau­tioned against relay­ing on lopinavir/ritonavir, say­ing, “It’s prob­a­bly a long shot to go for drug repur­pos­ing activ­i­ty against the coro­n­avirus using HIV drugs; these were pro­tease inhibitors that were designed specif­i­cal­ly for HIV.” Painter appeared to be echo­ing the skep­ti­cism we saw in the above arti­cle about using drugs design for HIV to com­bat a coro­n­avirus. And yet we have the “Thai cock­tail” cas­es and lopinavir/ritonavir have been part of the Chi­nese gov­ern­men­t’s guide­lines from the begin­ning. It’s a bit bewil­der­ing.

    Vin­cent Mun­ster, chief, Viral Ecol­o­gy Unit, US Nation­al Insti­tute of Health, makes an impor­tant point about remde­sivir and the types of patients it can be most effec­tive for: because remde­sivir works by inhibit­ing the virus’s repli­ca­tion it might not actu­al­ly be that use­ful for the already very sick patients who already have com­pli­ca­tions includ­ing pneu­mo­nia. Recall that the sec­ond patient suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed by the “Thai cock­tail” report­ed­ly had pneu­mo­nia and saw a rapid recov­ery. So it’s pos­si­ble remde­sivir is most effec­tive for pre­vent­ing the dis­ease from becom­ing severe and the “Thai cock­tail” or some oth­er treat­ment is more effec­tive fore the already severe­ly ill, although keep in mind that not only does the Kale­tra com­po­nent of the “Thai cock­tail” work by inhibit­ing viral repli­ca­tion but so does the oseltamivir com­po­nent so that’s a bit con­fus­ing. But the fact that we have the cas­es out of Thai­land show­ing a marked improve­ment in severe­ly ill patients sug­gests that the “Thai cock­tail” and remde­sivir might be use­ful at dif­fer­ent points dur­ing the out­break, with the “Thai cock­tail” being most use­ful right now when patients don’t yet have access to remde­sivir to pre­vent the ill­ness from get­ting worse.

    So, over­all, we are get­ting an array of mixed mes­sages about what might work and why. But the one con­sis­tent mes­sage is that remde­sivir is the favored treat­ment among the experts. And since the clin­i­cal tri­als for remde­sivir are expect­ed to be com­plet­ed in ear­ly April, and the rest of the tri­als aren’t expect­ed to be com­plet­ed until the end of May or lat­er, it appears that we’re on track for main­tain­ing a “no avail­able cure” offi­cial mes­sage for anoth­er month and then — if the remde­sivir clin­i­cal tri­als are a suc­cess — we’ll tran­si­tion to a “remde­sivir is the only known cure” phase of the out­break some time in April:

    Nature Biotech­nol­o­gy
    News

    Coro­n­avirus puts drug repur­pos­ing on the fast track
    Exist­ing antivi­rals and knowl­edge gained from the SARS and MERS out­breaks gain trac­tion as the fastest route to fight the cur­rent coro­n­avirus epi­dem­ic.

    Char­lotte Har­ri­son
    27 Feb­ru­ary 2020

    China’s biotech com­pa­nies have been gear­ing up to repur­pose exist­ing drugs, approved in the West for oth­er virus­es, as treat­ments for the coro­n­avirus out­break orig­i­nat­ing in Wuhan.

    Last month, Hangzhou-based Ascle­tis Phar­ma applied to the Chi­nese author­i­ties to test two HIV pro­tease inhibitors (riton­avir and ASC09) in clin­i­cal tri­als to treat COVID-19, the ill­ness caused by the new coro­n­avirus (Table 1). And Suzhou-based Bright­Gene Bio-Med­ical Tech­nol­o­gy announced in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary that it would begin to man­u­fac­ture Gilead Sci­ences’ remde­sivir (GS-5734), a broad-spec­trum inves­ti­ga­tion­al antivi­ral, as a treat­ment for coro­n­avirus infec­tion. Remde­sivir, orig­i­nal­ly devel­oped to treat Ebo­la virus and then dropped, will also be test­ed by Gilead in part­ner­ship with Chi­nese health author­i­ties in ran­dom­ized, con­trolled tri­als. “The gen­er­al genom­ic lay­out and the gen­er­al repli­ca­tion kinet­ics and the biol­o­gy of the MERS, SARS and [SARS-CoV­‑2] virus­es are very sim­i­lar, so test­ing drugs which tar­get rel­a­tive­ly gener­ic parts of these coro­n­avirus­es is a log­i­cal step,” says Vin­cent Mun­ster, chief, Viral Ecol­o­gy Unit, US Nation­al Insti­tute of Health. Test­ing ther­a­pies approved for oth­er indi­ca­tions also makes sens­es, as these drugs are already mass pro­duced and avail­able on a large scale.

    From the start of the COVID-19 out­break, med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers have fol­lowed China’s guide­lines set up in Jan­u­ary and treat­ed hos­pi­tal­ized patients with a‑interferon com­bined with the repur­posed drug Kale­tra, an approved cock­tail of the HIV pro­tease inhibitors riton­avir and lopinavir. The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion has not­ed that this com­bi­na­tion could pro­vide some clin­i­cal ben­e­fit. Kale­tra, man­u­fac­tured by Abb­Vie, is also being test­ed in oth­er com­bi­na­tions, with repur­posed drugs known to tar­get parts of the repli­ca­tion machin­ery of oth­er virus­es that are sim­i­lar to those in SARS-CoV­‑2 — for instance, with the guano­sine ana­log and RNA syn­the­sis inhibitor rib­avirin, with reverse tran­scrip­tase inhibitors (emtricitabine/tenofovir alafe­namide fumarate) or with Moscow-based Pharmstandard’s mem­brane fusion inhibitor umifen­ovir. Umifen­ovir is also in tri­als as a sin­gle agent.

    SARS-CoV­‑2 is an enveloped, pos­i­tive-sense, sin­gle-strand­ed RNA ß‑coronavirus sim­i­lar to the severe acute res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (SARS) and Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (MERS) virus­es. Poten­tial antivi­ral tar­gets encod­ed by the viral genome include non-struc­tur­al pro­teins (e.g., 3‑chy­motrypsin-like pro­tease, papain-like pro­tease, RNA-depen­dent RNA poly­merase and its heli­case), struc­tur­al pro­teins (e.g., the cap­sid spike gly­co­pro­tein) and acces­so­ry pro­teins. Kale­tra is thought to inhib­it the 3‑chy­motrypsin-like pro­tease of the SARS and MERS coro­n­avirus­es and was asso­ci­at­ed with improved clin­i­cal out­comes in a tri­al against SARS. Ascle­tis also report­ed that a patient with COVID-19 improved rapid­ly when giv­en this HIV pro­tease inhibitor com­bi­na­tion.

    But Erik De Cler­cq, of the Rega Insti­tute for Med­ical Research in Leu­ven, Bel­gium, says that in search­ing for or design­ing effec­tive drugs against COVID-19: “We should stay away from antivi­rals known to be act­ing at tar­gets not play­ing a role in the repli­ca­tion of coro­n­avirus­es.” Such drugs include pen­ci­clovir, which is tar­get­ed at the her­pesvirus DNA poly­merase, and lopinavir/ritonavir, which are tar­get­ed at the HIV pro­tease. Instead, he would favor tar­get­ing a virus-spe­cif­ic pro­tein such as the RNA-depen­dent RNA poly­merase, not­ing that coro­n­avirus­es do not con­tain or use a reverse tran­scrip­tase. George Painter, pres­i­dent of the Emory Insti­tute for Drug Devel­op­ment, Emory Uni­ver­si­ty, is also cau­tious about the HIV pro­tease inhibitor strat­e­gy. “It’s prob­a­bly a long shot to go for drug repur­pos­ing activ­i­ty against the coro­n­avirus using HIV drugs; these were pro­tease inhibitors that were designed specif­i­cal­ly for HIV,” he says.

    Nonethe­less, sev­er­al clin­i­cal tri­als of Kale­tra are under­way, either alone or with var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of inter­fer­ons, guano­sine-ana­log RNA syn­the­sis inhibitors, reverse tran­scrip­tase inhibitors or influen­za drugs, such as balox­avir mar­box­il, oseltamivir and umifen­ovir (Table 1). These tri­als are antic­i­pat­ed to read out from the end of May onwards.

    Painter is more opti­mistic about Gilead’s inves­ti­ga­tion­al drug remde­sivir, a nucleotide ana­log antivi­ral, that blocks the RNA poly­merase of the Ebo­la virus and so pre­vents repli­ca­tion. The think­ing behind repur­pos­ing remde­sivir is that its broad antivi­ral activ­i­ty may ren­der it effec­tive against SARS-CoV­‑2. Indeed, remde­sivir is in two clin­i­cal tri­als that began ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, with an esti­mat­ed com­ple­tion date of ear­ly April. “Remde­sivir has quite high effi­ca­cy across all dif­fer­ent coro­n­avirus­es and there­fore it is one of the prime can­di­dates to start being test­ed,” says Mun­ster. The World Health Organization’s R&D Blue­print report released at the end of Jan­u­ary con­sid­ered remde­sivir the most promis­ing can­di­date to treat COVID-19, on the basis of its broad-spec­trum activ­i­ty, in vit­ro and in vivo data for coro­n­avirus­es and clin­i­cal safe­ty from Ebo­la virus dis­ease tri­als.

    In vit­ro stud­ies pub­lished in Jan­u­ary have shown remde­sivir to be active against a clin­i­cal iso­late of SARS-CoV­‑2. Exper­i­men­tal data in mice infect­ed with the relat­ed MERS virus also showed the drug was bet­ter than a com­bi­na­tion of lopinavir/ritonavir and inter­fer­on beta in improv­ing lung func­tion. And the first patient in the Unit­ed States with con­firmed COVID-19 improved after being treat­ed for one day with remde­sivir, although this could not be direct­ly attrib­uted to the drug’s effect. Since then, remde­sivir has been shown to reduce the sever­i­ty of dis­ease, virus repli­ca­tion and dam­age to the lungs in a non-human pri­mate mod­el of MERS.

    “Broad-spec­trum agents are ide­al­ly suit­ed for out­break sit­u­a­tions where we don’t entire­ly know what we are deal­ing with in terms of pathogens,” says Bryan Mounce, assis­tant pro­fes­sor, Depart­ment of Micro­bi­ol­o­gy and Immunol­o­gy, Loy­ola Uni­ver­si­ty Chica­go. “Although we might not under­stand all the mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing their antivi­ral activ­i­ty, it is impor­tant that they have as few side effects as pos­si­ble,” he adds. A sec­ond broad-spec­trum antivi­ral in tri­als (Table 1) is Tokyo-based Toya­ma Chemical’s RNA poly­merase inhibitor favipi­ravir, approved for use against influen­za A and B. In an in vit­ro study, this com­pound did not show strong activ­i­ty against a clin­i­cal iso­late of SARS-CoV­‑2.

    Anoth­er HIV pro­tease inhibitor, Janssen’s Prez­co­bix (darunavir and the boost­ing agent cobici­s­tat), is also under eval­u­a­tion. At the end of Jan­u­ary, Janssen shipped Prez­co­bix to Chi­na for in vit­ro test­ing. In a state­ment to Nature Biotech­nol­o­gy, the com­pa­ny said, “We are aware of anec­do­tal reports of darunavir poten­tial­ly hav­ing antivi­ral activ­i­ty against COVID-19. The com­pa­ny has no in vit­ro or clin­i­cal data to sup­port the use of darunavir as a treat­ment for COVID-19.” The recip­i­ents of the ship­ments have reg­is­tered a clin­i­cal tri­al to test Prez­co­bix in com­bi­na­tions.

    At least ten clin­i­cal tri­als are test­ing chloro­quine, approved as an anti­malar­i­al and autoim­mune dis­ease drug. In vit­ro, the endo­so­mal acid­i­fi­ca­tion fusion inhibitor blocked infec­tion of a clin­i­cal iso­late of SARS-CoV­‑2.

    Most of the drugs in clin­i­cal tri­als (Table 1) inhib­it key com­po­nents of the coro­n­avirus infec­tion life­cy­cle. These include viral entry into the host cell (blocked by umifen­ovir, chloro­quine or inter­fer­on), viral repli­ca­tion (blocked by lopinavir/ritonavir, ASC09 or darunavir/cobicistat, which inhib­it the 3C-like pro­tease (3CLpro)) and viral RNA syn­the­sis (inhib­it­ed by remde­sivir, favipi­ravir, emtricitabine/tenofovir alafe­namide or rib­avirin). The genom­ic sequence of the SARS-CoV­‑2 sug­gests that there is a high lev­el of sequence sim­i­lar­i­ty between the SARS-CoV­‑2, SARS and MERS pro­teins involved in the repli­ca­tion cycle.

    Tar­get­ing viral cel­lu­lar entry via the spike gly­co­pro­tein, which medi­ates the virus–cell recep­tor inter­ac­tion, is anoth­er option for repur­pos­ing. SARS-CoV­‑2 uses angiotensin-con­vert­ing enzyme 2 (ACE2) and the cel­lu­lar pro­tease trans­mem­brane pro­tease ser­ine 2 (TMPRSS2) to enter tar­get cells. The mar­ket­ed TMPRSS2 inhibitor camo­stat mesy­late blocked cel­lu­lar entry of the SARS-CoV­‑2 virus, accord­ing to an unpub­lished preprint. And the Janus-asso­ci­at­ed kinase (JAK) inhibitor Olu­mi­ant (baric­i­tinib), approved for rheuma­toid arthri­tis, was iden­ti­fied using machine learn­ing algo­rithms on the basis of its inhi­bi­tion of ACE2-medi­at­ed endo­cy­to­sis. Anoth­er JAK inhibitor, Jakafi (rux­oli­tinib), is in tri­als (com­bined with mes­enchy­mal stem cell infu­sion) for COVID-19.

    The release ear­li­er this month of the high-res­o­lu­tion crys­tal struc­ture of 3CLpro (Pro­tein Data Bank iden­ti­fi­er 6LU7) and a SSci­ence paper describ­ing the 3.5‑Å-resolution struc­ture of the viral spike S pro­tein in pre-fusion con­for­ma­tion should also expe­dite drug dis­cov­ery efforts. Researchers who deter­mined the 3CLpro struc­ture report­ed­ly used it to screen for repur­posed drugs, iden­ti­fy­ing the pro­tease inhibitors saquinavir, indi­navir, lopinavir and riton­avir, the pro­tea­some inhibitor carfil­zomib, two res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­cy­tial virus drugs, a schiz­o­phre­nia med­ica­tion and an immuno­sup­pres­sant. Also on the basis of the 3CLpro struc­ture, machine learn­ing algo­rithms (gen­er­a­tive deep learn­ing) gen­er­at­ed sev­er­al nov­el poten­tial inhibitors. Turn­ing these into drugs would require a very lengthy drug devel­op­ment process, which would prob­a­bly be longer than the cur­rent out­break. One of the authors of the preprint, Alex Zha­voronkov, CEO at Insil­i­co Med­i­cine, Hong Kong, sug­gests that find­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between these nov­el struc­tures and known drugs could be an option for repur­pos­ing — and here the speed of machine learn­ing search­es could be par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful in epi­dem­ic set­tings.

    ...

    Tar­get­ing viral repli­ca­tion with drugs such as remde­sivir should pre­vent asymp­to­matic, mild or mod­er­ate COVID-19 cas­es from pro­gress­ing to severe dis­ease. Yet cur­rent drugs in tri­als might not be enough for those who are sick­est. “Typ­i­cal­ly those pre­sent­ing them­selves at hos­pi­tals will already have severe dis­ease, which is asso­ci­at­ed with pneu­mo­nia. Here, tar­get­ing viral repli­ca­tion might take away the virus but not the dam­age that is very like­ly due to the immune response of the patient,” says Mun­ster.

    The repur­posed pipeline is finite, so it’s almost cer­tain that nov­el as well as repur­posed drugs will be need­ed in the fight against COVID-19. Those that hold the most promise, Painter notes, are those antivi­rals with a breadth of activ­i­ty against not only coro­n­avirus­es, but oth­er RNA virus­es, such as high­ly path­o­gen­ic Ebo­la and avian flu virus­es.. “If there’s any mes­sage to be had from the cur­rent out­break, it’s that it’s almost inevitable it will hap­pen again.”

    ———–

    “Coro­n­avirus puts drug repur­pos­ing on the fast track” by Char­lotte Har­ri­son; Nature Biotech­nol­o­gy; 02/27/2020

    From the start of the COVID-19 out­break, med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers have fol­lowed China’s guide­lines set up in Jan­u­ary and treat­ed hos­pi­tal­ized patients with a‑interferon com­bined with the repur­posed drug Kale­tra, an approved cock­tail of the HIV pro­tease inhibitors riton­avir and lopinavir. The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion has not­ed that this com­bi­na­tion could pro­vide some clin­i­cal ben­e­fit. Kale­tra, man­u­fac­tured by Abb­Vie, is also being test­ed in oth­er com­bi­na­tions, with repur­posed drugs known to tar­get parts of the repli­ca­tion machin­ery of oth­er virus­es that are sim­i­lar to those in SARS-CoV­‑2 — for instance, with the guano­sine ana­log and RNA syn­the­sis inhibitor rib­avirin, with reverse tran­scrip­tase inhibitors (emtricitabine/tenofovir alafe­namide fumarate) or with Moscow-based Pharmstandard’s mem­brane fusion inhibitor umifen­ovir. Umifen­ovir is also in tri­als as a sin­gle agent.”

    Yep, from the start of the out­break med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers have fol­lowed China’s guide­lines set up in Jan­u­ary and treat­ed hos­pi­tal­ized patients with a‑interferon com­bined with Kale­tra. So Kale­tra has been the rec­om­mend­ed drug from the begin­ning. But remde­sivir is clear­ly the drug of choice among the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty of experts devel­op­ing a treat­ment. And it’s not an unex­pect­ed can­di­date drug. As the arti­cle notes, exper­i­men­tal data showed remde­sivir was bet­ter against the relat­ed MERS virus than Kale­tra + inter­fer­on beta at improv­ing lung func­tion. There’s real evi­dence for its pos­si­ble effi­ca­cy in this case. But Kale­tra + inter­fer­on beta isn’t the same as the “Thai cock­tail” so it remains inter­est­ing why there’s still so lit­tle appar­ent inter­est in the “Thai cock­tail”:

    ...
    Last month, Hangzhou-based Ascle­tis Phar­ma applied to the Chi­nese author­i­ties to test two HIV pro­tease inhibitors (riton­avir and ASC09) in clin­i­cal tri­als to treat COVID-19, the ill­ness caused by the new coro­n­avirus (Table 1). And Suzhou-based Bright­Gene Bio-Med­ical Tech­nol­o­gy announced in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary that it would begin to man­u­fac­ture Gilead Sci­ences’ remde­sivir (GS-5734), a broad-spec­trum inves­ti­ga­tion­al antivi­ral, as a treat­ment for coro­n­avirus infec­tion. Remde­sivir, orig­i­nal­ly devel­oped to treat Ebo­la virus and then dropped, will also be test­ed by Gilead in part­ner­ship with Chi­nese health author­i­ties in ran­dom­ized, con­trolled tri­als. “The gen­er­al genom­ic lay­out and the gen­er­al repli­ca­tion kinet­ics and the biol­o­gy of the MERS, SARS and [SARS-CoV­‑2] virus­es are very sim­i­lar, so test­ing drugs which tar­get rel­a­tive­ly gener­ic parts of these coro­n­avirus­es is a log­i­cal step,” says Vin­cent Mun­ster, chief, Viral Ecol­o­gy Unit, US Nation­al Insti­tute of Health. Test­ing ther­a­pies approved for oth­er indi­ca­tions also makes sens­es, as these drugs are already mass pro­duced and avail­able on a large scale.

    ...

    In vit­ro stud­ies pub­lished in Jan­u­ary have shown remde­sivir to be active against a clin­i­cal iso­late of SARS-CoV­‑2. Exper­i­men­tal data in mice infect­ed with the relat­ed MERS virus also showed the drug was bet­ter than a com­bi­na­tion of lopinavir/ritonavir and inter­fer­on beta in improv­ing lung func­tion. And the first patient in the Unit­ed States with con­firmed COVID-19 improved after being treat­ed for one day with remde­sivir, although this could not be direct­ly attrib­uted to the drug’s effect. Since then, remde­sivir has been shown to reduce the sever­i­ty of dis­ease, virus repli­ca­tion and dam­age to the lungs in a non-human pri­mate mod­el of MERS.
    ...

    And as the arti­cle also notes, Kale­tra has indeed been shown to improve clin­i­cal out­comes in a tri­al against SARS. So it seems like the same ratio­nale for using remde­sivir (it showed effec­tive­ness against a SARS-like virus so it might work for COVID-19) should apply to Kale­tra. But we keep get­ting warn­ings that Kale­tra is some­thing we want to avoid using. Erik De Cler­cq warns against Kale­tra because it was designed for HIV and George Painter spec­u­lates that the fact that Kale­tra was designed for HIV makes it a long shot. Those would both be rea­son­able assump­tion with­out any data about Kale­tra’s poten­tial effi­ca­cy and the “Thai cock­tail” expe­ri­ences in Thai­land:

    ...
    SARS-CoV­‑2 is an enveloped, pos­i­tive-sense, sin­gle-strand­ed RNA ß‑coronavirus sim­i­lar to the severe acute res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (SARS) and Mid­dle East res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­drome (MERS) virus­es. Poten­tial antivi­ral tar­gets encod­ed by the viral genome include non-struc­tur­al pro­teins (e.g., 3‑chy­motrypsin-like pro­tease, papain-like pro­tease, RNA-depen­dent RNA poly­merase and its heli­case), struc­tur­al pro­teins (e.g., the cap­sid spike gly­co­pro­tein) and acces­so­ry pro­teins. Kale­tra is thought to inhib­it the 3‑chy­motrypsin-like pro­tease of the SARS and MERS coro­n­avirus­es and was asso­ci­at­ed with improved clin­i­cal out­comes in a tri­al against SARS. Ascle­tis also report­ed that a patient with COVID-19 improved rapid­ly when giv­en this HIV pro­tease inhibitor com­bi­na­tion.

    But Erik De Cler­cq, of the Rega Insti­tute for Med­ical Research in Leu­ven, Bel­gium, says that in search­ing for or design­ing effec­tive drugs against COVID-19: “We should stay away from antivi­rals known to be act­ing at tar­gets not play­ing a role in the repli­ca­tion of coro­n­avirus­es.” Such drugs include pen­ci­clovir, which is tar­get­ed at the her­pesvirus DNA poly­merase, and lopinavir/ritonavir, which are tar­get­ed at the HIV pro­tease. Instead, he would favor tar­get­ing a virus-spe­cif­ic pro­tein such as the RNA-depen­dent RNA poly­merase, not­ing that coro­n­avirus­es do not con­tain or use a reverse tran­scrip­tase. George Painter, pres­i­dent of the Emory Insti­tute for Drug Devel­op­ment, Emory Uni­ver­si­ty, is also cau­tious about the HIV pro­tease inhibitor strat­e­gy. “It’s prob­a­bly a long shot to go for drug repur­pos­ing activ­i­ty against the coro­n­avirus using HIV drugs; these were pro­tease inhibitors that were designed specif­i­cal­ly for HIV,” he says.
    ...

    And then the arti­cle points out that, despite these warn­ings about Kale­tra, sev­er­al clin­i­cal trails of it in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er drugs is on the way. This includes oseltamivir. The clin­i­cal tri­als are expect­ed to end from the end of May onwards. So the clin­i­cal tri­al involv­ing the “Thai cock­tail” might be over by the end of May but it could take longer. The remde­sivir clin­i­cal tri­al is expect­ed to end by ear­ly April:

    ...
    Nonethe­less, sev­er­al clin­i­cal tri­als of Kale­tra are under­way, either alone or with var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of inter­fer­ons, guano­sine-ana­log RNA syn­the­sis inhibitors, reverse tran­scrip­tase inhibitors or influen­za drugs, such as balox­avir mar­box­il, oseltamivir and umifen­ovir (Table 1). These tri­als are antic­i­pat­ed to read out from the end of May onwards.

    Painter is more opti­mistic about Gilead’s inves­ti­ga­tion­al drug remde­sivir, a nucleotide ana­log antivi­ral, that blocks the RNA poly­merase of the Ebo­la virus and so pre­vents repli­ca­tion. The think­ing behind repur­pos­ing remde­sivir is that its broad antivi­ral activ­i­ty may ren­der it effec­tive against SARS-CoV­‑2. Indeed, remde­sivir is in two clin­i­cal tri­als that began ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, with an esti­mat­ed com­ple­tion date of ear­ly April. “Remde­sivir has quite high effi­ca­cy across all dif­fer­ent coro­n­avirus­es and there­fore it is one of the prime can­di­dates to start being test­ed,” says Mun­ster. The World Health Organization’s R&D Blue­print report released at the end of Jan­u­ary con­sid­ered remde­sivir the most promis­ing can­di­date to treat COVID-19, on the basis of its broad-spec­trum activ­i­ty, in vit­ro and in vivo data for coro­n­avirus­es and clin­i­cal safe­ty from Ebo­la virus dis­ease tri­als.
    ...

    As Bryan Mounce points out, broad-spec­trum agents real­ly are ide­al for a nov­el viral out­break. And that’s a very valid point. Broad-spec­trum antivi­rals would prob­a­bly be more effec­tive in the face of muta­tions and be more use­ful for future nov­el viral out­breaks. So there real­ly is val­ue in focus­ing on a broad-spec­trum antivi­ral drug like remde­sivir. It just remains puz­zling what the focus appears to be almost exclu­sive­ly on that drug:

    ...
    “Broad-spec­trum agents are ide­al­ly suit­ed for out­break sit­u­a­tions where we don’t entire­ly know what we are deal­ing with in terms of pathogens,” says Bryan Mounce, assis­tant pro­fes­sor, Depart­ment of Micro­bi­ol­o­gy and Immunol­o­gy, Loy­ola Uni­ver­si­ty Chica­go. “Although we might not under­stand all the mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing their antivi­ral activ­i­ty, it is impor­tant that they have as few side effects as pos­si­ble,” he adds. A sec­ond broad-spec­trum antivi­ral in tri­als (Table 1) is Tokyo-based Toya­ma Chemical’s RNA poly­merase inhibitor favipi­ravir, approved for use against influen­za A and B. In an in vit­ro study, this com­pound did not show strong activ­i­ty against a clin­i­cal iso­late of SARS-CoV­‑2.
    ...

    Final­ly, note the point made by Vin­cent Mun­ster about how antivi­rals that tar­get repli­ca­tion like remde­sivir might have lim­it­ed use for already very ill patients. The arti­cle notes that Kale­tra also works by inhibit­ing viral repli­ca­tion (which is also the case with oseltamivir). And as the “Thai cock­tail” cas­es demon­strat­ed, that com­bi­na­tion of Kale­tra + oseltamivir was pret­ty effec­tive for already severe­ly ill patients with pneu­mo­nia. So it seems like the “Thai cock­tail” might also work at pre­vent­ing the dis­ease from pro­gress­ing:

    ...
    At least ten clin­i­cal tri­als are test­ing chloro­quine, approved as an anti­malar­i­al and autoim­mune dis­ease drug. In vit­ro, the endo­so­mal acid­i­fi­ca­tion fusion inhibitor blocked infec­tion of a clin­i­cal iso­late of SARS-CoV­‑2.

    Most of the drugs in clin­i­cal tri­als (Table 1) inhib­it key com­po­nents of the coro­n­avirus infec­tion life­cy­cle. These include viral entry into the host cell (blocked by umifen­ovir, chloro­quine or inter­fer­on), viral repli­ca­tion (blocked by lopinavir/ritonavir, ASC09 or darunavir/cobicistat, which inhib­it the 3C-like pro­tease (3CLpro)) and viral RNA syn­the­sis (inhib­it­ed by remde­sivir, favipi­ravir, emtricitabine/tenofovir alafe­namide or rib­avirin). The genom­ic sequence of the SARS-CoV­‑2 sug­gests that there is a high lev­el of sequence sim­i­lar­i­ty between the SARS-CoV­‑2, SARS and MERS pro­teins involved in the repli­ca­tion cycle.

    ...

    Tar­get­ing viral repli­ca­tion with drugs such as remde­sivir should pre­vent asymp­to­matic, mild or mod­er­ate COVID-19 cas­es from pro­gress­ing to severe dis­ease. Yet cur­rent drugs in tri­als might not be enough for those who are sick­est. “Typ­i­cal­ly those pre­sent­ing them­selves at hos­pi­tals will already have severe dis­ease, which is asso­ci­at­ed with pneu­mo­nia. Here, tar­get­ing viral repli­ca­tion might take away the virus but not the dam­age that is very like­ly due to the immune response of the patient,” says Mun­ster.

    The repur­posed pipeline is finite, so it’s almost cer­tain that nov­el as well as repur­posed drugs will be need­ed in the fight against COVID-19. Those that hold the most promise, Painter notes, are those antivi­rals with a breadth of activ­i­ty against not only coro­n­avirus­es, but oth­er RNA virus­es, such as high­ly path­o­gen­ic Ebo­la and avian flu virus­es.. “If there’s any mes­sage to be had from the cur­rent out­break, it’s that it’s almost inevitable it will hap­pen again.”
    ...

    But it’s impor­tant to acknowl­edge that it’s very pos­si­ble there are going to be cas­es with severe­ly ill patients suf­fer­ing dam­age from their immune response that would­n’t be helped by the “Thai cock­tail” alone and require addi­tion­al immune-sup­press­ing drugs. This dis­ease can clear­ly man­i­fest in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways and one of the ways it gets lethal is by trig­ger­ing an over­whelm­ing immune response.

    That’s the over­all sta­tus of the search for a “cure” for COVID-19. What’s clear now is that we are offi­cial­ly going to be told there is no cure until there have been clin­i­cal tri­als com­plet­ed that show a drug is safe and effec­tive. And that won’t hap­pen until ear­ly April at the ear­li­est when the remde­sivir tri­al is expect­ed to be com­plet­ed. It’s also clear that the research com­mu­ni­ty real­ly real­ly strong­ly prefers remde­sivir and does­n’t appear to be very inter­est­ed in the “Thai cock­tail”. Why that is remains unclear, but the “Thai cock­tail” clin­i­cal tri­als are under­way and should be com­plet­ed some time lat­er this year. Maybe we’ll learn that it was­n’t real­ly that effec­tive and the inci­dents out of Thai­land were a fluke. We’ll see. But it looks like we have at least one more month of all the gov­ern­ments and health offi­cials and pub­li­ca­tions run­ning around telling the world that there’s an unstop­pable killer virus on the loose.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 5, 2020, 3:41 pm
  11. This next arti­cle shows how for­mer MI6 Chief, Richard Dearlove, is spread­ing incor­rect infor­ma­tion by mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing a report to blame the Chi­nese for spread of COVID-19 that it was a man made acci­dent engi­neered by a Chi­nese lab. The paper that Dearlove claimed was “smok­ing gun evi­dence” was was co-authored by Pro­fes­sor Angus Dal­gleish, a renowned oncol­o­gist and vac­cine researcher who works at St George’s Hos­pi­tal, Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don, and Birg­er Sorensen, He said does not con­tain the stark alle­ga­tions made by the anti-Chi­nese media orga­ni­za­tion Epoch Times. The facts were twist­ed.

    Spy chief in coro­n­avirus storm: Down­ing Street hits out at for­mer MI6 boss Richard Dearlove’s ‘fan­ci­ful’ claims that Covid-19 was made in a lab
    • Ex-MI6 chief accused of ped­dling ‘fan­ci­ful claims’ about Covid-19 pan­dem­ic 
    • Health Sec­re­tary said there is ‘no evi­dence’ to back up lab­o­ra­to­ry the­o­ry 
    • British secu­ri­ty agen­cies believe its ‘high­ly like­ly’ the virus occurred nat­u­ral­ly 
    • Here’s how to help peo­ple impact­ed by Covid-19

    By LARISA BROWN DEFENCE AND SECURITY EDITOR FOR THE DAILY MAIL
    PUBLISHED: 17:00 EDT, 4 June 2020

    https://mol.im/a/8389809

    Posted by Mary Benton | June 6, 2020, 11:26 am

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