Stop playing around with Pandora’s Box

In Greek Mythology, Pandora was a noble lady whose husband entrusted her with a mysterious jar (later mutating into a box) that supposedly contained untold plagues that could decimate Humankind. Passionately wavering about opening it or not, her curiosity finally got the best of her: she opened it and unleashed its terrible contents.

After more than a year and a half of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic that has killed millions of innocent victims (including our uncle José Luis in Montevideo) and maiming countless infected people with still unknown long-term sequelae, we are all wondering the same: was the pandemic a natural phenomenon or man-made? Initially we did believe that the origin was the accidental transmission of a bat-virus into a human host in that all too infamous Wuhan market. However, over time, the possibility of an accidental leakage from a Chinese lab became more plausible.

Note. This reproduction of Lawrwnce Alma Tadema’s Pandora was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Nicholas Wade, a prominent science editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, wrote a great article that discusses the veracity of these two competing explanations. He said: “I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory.” This article is so clearly written and solidly based on known facts, that we will try to make a resume.

For months, we thought that the virus had originated in that wet market, but the later discovery of earlier cases not related to it, shattered that hypothesis. In that city stands the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specializes in coronavirus research. When the possibility of an accidental leakage from a less-than-adequate security lab began to mass circulate in the public forum, a group of supposedly “impartial scientists” wrote a letter (not a peer-reviewed article) in The Lancet refuting it. Wade said: “It later turned out that The Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2-virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to The Lancet’s readers, the letter concluded, “We declare no competing interests.”

The author explained that some scientists have been surreptitiously playing a dangerous game in academia and private institutions: creating viruses that are far more deadly than the ones found in nature. They claimed that they could control the scientific variables in a security lab and that their research would help prevent a future jump of these deadly pathogens into a human host. A far-fetched proposition.

The gain-of-function experiments aim  to enhance the virulence and transmissibility of pathogens by tinkering around with its genomic constitution. Some virologists in China and other countries have been studying these coronaviruses to change the composition of their surface spike proteins (the device the organism uses to latch on a human cell before injecting its genetic material into it) with varying results. Shi Zheng-Li—nicknamed The Bat Lady—lead several expeditions to dark caves to collect new specimens of coronaviruses and has worked at the Wuhan Institute.

Wade said: “Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to ‘examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs.” He explained that they managed to take the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replace its spike protein with another one from a bat virus, which made it more virulent in human airways. They dubbed their creation as a chimera—a fantastic creature of Greek Mythology.

How could all these scientific undertakings happen “under the radar” of public opinion and, most importantly, the supposedly watchful eyes of public regulators? According to Wade, there is a most shameful conspiracy of silence in academia that prevents the diffusion of this critical information to the very ones they are supposed to be serving: US. During the past few decades, the scientific community has become so detached from the daily realities of common folks that, in their foolish hubris, have tacitly assumed that they can take these Life and Death decisions on their own.

They are totally mistaken. We want “a say” in decisions that, if gone wrong, can potentially wipe Humankind forever.

A message to these late age “apprentis de sorcier”: stop playing around with Pandora’s box.

And another message to the U.S. House of Representatives: check carefully what you are signing for. Do not fund more “gain-of-function” scientific projects as the risks for our species’ survival are too big.

In future articles, we will continue discussing these critical issues for our Health.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.













Lawrence Alma Tadema’s Pandora

Latest peer-reviewed data about the Novavax vaccine

Most of Humankind is hoping to be relieved from the terrible Coronavirus pandemic by the arrival of one (and preferably two) vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has spawned it. However, the recent reports that there might be political pressures of all stripes to accelerate its arrival, maybe sidestepping all the traditional scientific procedures to certify it, as not only safe but also effective, has frayed the nerves of the concerned public opinion across the globe. Therefore if new and reliable data starts to appear about the more-advanced vaccine candidates, the scientific certification and public support needed for their regulatory approval will solidify.

In a previous article, we have already discussed the innovative design of the Novavax vaccine. C.Keech et al., from Novavax, have submitted a peer-reviewed article about the Phase 1 and 2 trials of their Recombinant Spike Protein Nanoparticle vaccine. They had set up “a randomized, placebo-controlled, phase 1-2 trial to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of the rSARS-CoV-2 vaccine (in 5-ug and 25-ug doses, with or without Matrix-M1 adjuvant, and with observers unaware of trial-group assignments) in 131 healthy adults)” The participants were divided thus:

  1. a) Eighty-three (83) participants were given the vaccine plus the adjuvant.
  2. b) Twenty-five (25) participants were given the vaccine without the adjuvant.
  3. c) Twenty-three (23) participants received a placebo.

The researchers reported the initial results of the Phase 1, which was started in May. The Novavax vaccine is a recombinant nanoparticle vaccine designed with the full-length wild-type SARS-C0V-2 spike glycoprotein previously biologically primed in the baculovirus Spodoptera frugiperda insect cell-expression system. The rSARS-CoV-2 is resistant to the degradation to proteolytic cleavage, successfully binds with the hACEe receptor and is sufficiently stable at different temperatures. The company also manufactured the Matrix-m1, a saponin-based adjuvant, which was mixed with rSARS-CoV-2 right before the application to individuals. There were two injections in the deltoid muscle (both for the vaccine and the placebo) separated by 21 days.

First of all we must say that there were no serious adverse events for any  participants (thank you God Almighty for illuminating those brave scientists’ minds and hands) The addition of the adjuvant boosted the immunogenicity response by inducing a T helper 1 (Th1) response, which bode very well for the possibility of a much longer immunological defense for vaccinated individuals. Every participant was duly observed for half an hour after each injection and were given a dairy to carry home. “Predefined local (injection site) reactogenicity included pain, tenderness, erythema, and swelling; systemic reactogenicity included fever, nausea or vomiting, headache, fatigue, malaise, myalgia, and arthralgia.” The reactogenicity was also mild after the second vaccination and there was not a safety pause for any participating individual. The laboratory abnormalities of grade 2 or higher occurred in 13 participants (10% of the group) but were not associated with any grave clinical presentation. Six individuals (5 women and 1 man) had transitory lowering of the Hemoglobin values, with no evidence of microcytic anemia or hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells)

The evidence of an immunological defense set up by the bodies of participants was assessed by measuring the anti-spike IgG ELISA unit responses to rSARS-CoV-2 protein antigens, measured at days 0, 7,21,28 and 35. Those results were compared with a control panel of 32 (IgG) and 29 (MN) convalescent serum harvested form patients with PCR-confirmed infection that eventually successfully recovered. “ELISA anti-spike IgG geometric main ELISA units (GMEUs) ranged from 106 to 116 at day 0. By day 21, responses had occurred for all adjuvanted regimens…and geometric mean fold rises (GMFRs) exceeded those induced without adjuvant by a factor of at least 10. Within 7 days after the second vaccination with adjuvant…had further increased by a factor of 8…over responses seen with the first vaccination, and within 14 days (day 35) responses had more than doubled yet again, achieving GMFRs that were approximately 100 times greater than those observed with rSARS-CoV-2 alone.”

These initial results are certainly encouraging for those of us anxiously waiting for the vaccine.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.