Dutch Virologist Ron Fouchier is a controversial figure in the field of Viroscience. He created world’s deadliest virus strain and his research sparked a global controversy to de-fund and shutdown such experiments. Experts have raised concerns legally that such experiments could not only lead to a global pandemic but could also lead to bio-terrorism. However, Ron Fouchier is also a key to the COVID-19 investigation. He isolated the SARS Coronavirus smuggled out of Saudi Arabia which was sent to the Canadian scientist Frank Plummer, who ended up dead a week after GreatGameIndia‘s report was published. This investigation takes a deeper look at the controversial nature of Ron Fouchier’s work, with regards to the COVID-19 outbreak.
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Ron Fouchier is a Dutch virologist who works as a professor at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands. His field of expertise is Molecular Virology and Virus Evolution and has been involved in the discovery and sequencing of several viruses including SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009.
Fouchier’s research and publications were at the center of heated debate when in 2011, he and his team created a mutant H5N1 virus that can spread among ferrets without direct contact. His study showed that such an airborne virus can jump onto humans and can lead to a global pandemic or worse – bioterrorism.
2011 Mutant H5N1 Virus Controversy
In September 2011, Fouchier stood at the intercontinental hotel in Malta and told an audience of scientists how a mutated H5N1 virus he created has the capability to evolve in mammals to achieve airborne transmissibility. In other words, he had created the world’s most dangerous virus.
Although H5N1 bird flu can kill humans, it has not gone pandemic because it cannot spread easily among humans without direct contact. However, with Fouchier’s discovery of the mutated strain of the virus, that might change.
“The virus is transmitted as efficiently as seasonal flu,” says Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who reported the work at a scientific meeting on flu in Malta.
With the help of genetic engineering and serial infections, the study outlined the experiment in which he showed how the mutated virus spread among a group of ferrets without direct contact. His findings suggested that as less as five mutations in H5N1 bird flu virus are needed to make it airborne.
Questions were raised whether or not these findings should be made public and published in research journals. While his peers advocated that the findings should be published with all the key details, biosecurity experts argued that experiments like these shouldn’t have been done in the first place let alone get published.
“I think that the publication does increase the probability that others will want to replicate the experiments and pursue this line of research further. The more labs that are doing this research, the more likely an accidental escape becomes.” He gave an example of how in 1977, the H1N1 virus re-emerged when a lab accident leaked out the virus in Russia.
- Eric S. Toner, MD, senior associate in the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said.
The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended that the study should be stripped of key details before it is published. However, the board changed its mind and allowed the studies to publish in full in March 2012.
In a scathing report on the Fouchier experiments, Lynn Klotz, a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation wrote for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
Lab incidents that lead to undetected or unreported laboratory-acquired infections can lead to the release of a disease into the community outside the lab; lab workers with such infections will leave work carrying the pathogen with them. If the agent involved were a potential pandemic pathogen, such a community release could lead to a worldwide pandemic with many fatalities.
Of greatest concern is a release of a lab-created, mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, such as the airborne-transmissible H5N1 viruses created in the laboratories of Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands.
Given the many ways by which human error can occur, it is doubtful that Fouchier’s human-error-prevention measures can eliminate release of airborne-transmissible avian flu into the community through undetected or unreported lab infections.
The mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly pathogenic avian influenza created in the Fouchier labs should be able to infect humans through the air, and the viruses could be deadly.
Government funding of “dual-use” technology
The Fouchier controversy raised concern at the shortcomings of the government, funding agencies, scientists, and journals at handling dangerous discoveries. For instance, NSABB had no clue about Fouchier’s research until the journals were ready to publish it.
In 2013, Fouchier lost his legal battle against the Dutch government which prevented him from publishing his H5N1 mutant virus research without seeking permission first. “The government correctly interpreted E.U. regulations aimed at preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and so-called “dual-use” technology that could be used for good or evil,” the court said.
In October 2014, the United States officials announced a pause in funding of gain-of-function (GOF) studies related to influenza MERS and SARS. However, according to ScienceInsider, in 2018, the U.S health committee quietly approved funding for Fouchier’s studies related to the H5N1 virus that caused furor 8 years ago.
In June 2012, Dr. Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian virologist working at Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jedda, Saudi Arabia came across an unidentifiable virus he isolated from a 60-year old patient that died recently.
Frustrated with the lack of information about the virus, Dr. Zaki sent the virus sample to Fouchier in the Netherlands. It turned out to be a new type of coronavirus, previously unknown to the scientific community. Fuchier tentatively named the virus betacoronavirus 2c EMC (hCoV-EMC) after Erasmus Medical Center before WHO intervened and rechristened the virus as MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The virus was first named HCoV-KSA1, for human coronavirus from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia – the county where the virus originated – was unhappy with Fouchier’s conduct. The coronavirus was smuggled out of Saudi Arabia without the approval of the Saudi authorities. If that wasn’t enough, Saudi scientists were asked to sign an EMC material-transfer agreement (MTA) before they can get their hands on the smuggled virus samples.
Saudi authorities were unhappy that, although the virus was first isolated in their country, Zaki’s action resulted in handing sovereign and intellectual-property rights on the first diagnostic tests or treatments over to an institute in the Netherlands. They claim that Zaki kept them in the dark about his work, including his shipment of the virus to the Netherlands. Ziad Memish, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of health, asserted that national procedures for reporting potential new pathogens “were either intentionally or inadvertently circumvented.”
Ron Fouchier’s tryst with controversy does not end with Saudi Arabia. As reported in GreatGameIndia‘s investigative report, Fouchier was the one who sent Coronavirus to the Canadian scientist Frank Plummer at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. It was under Plummer, Chinese biowarfare spy Xiangguo Qiu and her team smuggled deadly coronaviruses from the Canadian lab to Wuhan Institute of Virology.
EXCLUSIVE#Coronavirus Bioweapon Thread
How China Stole Coronavirus From Canada And Weaponized Ithttps://t.co/tc7W2DrmAA
— GreatGameIndia (@GreatGameIndia) January 27, 2020
Like Fouchier and the Chinese agent Charles Lieber who created virus-transmitters, Plummer was the key to the COVID-19 investigation and co-incidentally ended up dead a week after the publication of our report. (A detailed report on Frank Plummer will be published by us later.)
The jury is still out on whether the results of such “dual-use research of concern” studies should be made public or not. While some say it’s necessary for the scientific community to push the envelope, others warn that studies like these should never happen in the first place.
Although, the moot question is – is it a coincidence that the way the Saudi SARS Coronavirus was smuggled out of Saudi Arabia, in an exact similar fashion the virus was also smuggled out by Chinese spies from the Canadian lab to Wuhan Institute of Virology – which is now under investigation for the COVID-19 outbreak?
For latest updates on the outbreak check out our Coronavirus Coverage.
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