Thursday, 5 March 2020

How China's search for anti-virus vaccine started in Wuhan itself

I read with great interest Stephen Buranyi’s fascinating article on how vaccines against virus threats get made (“Profit makes the search for a coronavirus vaccine harder,” Guardian, 5 March 2020;

He strongly argues it is the role of commercial pharma companies that make the process both more complex and expensive

There have been other models promoted via the World Health Organisation (WHO).

For example, Nature journal reported three years ago that  a major maximum-security biolab was being developed by the Chinese Government  part of plan to build network of biosafety-level four (BSL-4 facilities) across China: the first was to be opened in Wuhan.
It was planned to focus on the control of emerging diseases, store purified viruses and act as a World Health Organization ‘reference laboratory’ linked to similar labs around the world. (“Inside the Chinese lab poised to study world's most dangerous pathogens,”  Nature, 22 February 2017:

Nature reported that some scientists outside China were worried about pathogens escaping. The SARS virus escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times, according to Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.  

But Chinese microbiologists celebrated their entrance to “the elite cadre empowered to wrestle with the world’s greatest biological threats”.

George Gao, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Key Laboratory of Pathogenic Microbiology and Immunology in Beijing, observed “It will offer more opportunities for Chinese researchers, and our contribution on the BSL‑4-level pathogens will benefit the world.”

"The world is facing more new emerging viruses, and we need more contribution from China,” stressed Gao.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences approved the construction of a BSL-4 laboratory in 2003, and the epidemic of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) around the same time lent the project momentum. The lab was designed and constructed with French assistance as part of a 2004 cooperative agreement on the prevention and control of emerging infectious diseases.
The US Centers for Disease Control issued a press briefing note in May 2019 ( on the ‘Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory User Training Program, China’ prepared by seven authors from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Wuhan branch).

They wrote: “Microbes contained in BSL-4 laboratories pose a significant risk for transmission and are frequently fatal; most have no reliable cure.”

During construction, prospective BSL-4 laboratory staff members visited France, the United States, or Australia for BSL-4 training and capacity building.

Wuhan constructed a "realistic" training laboratory with bioseal doors, pressure sensors, a chemical shower room, air connection ports, biosafety cabinets (BSCs), an autoclave, and general laboratory equipment.

The authors conclude: “According to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, the chance that exotic pathogens could be brought into the country has dramatically increased Our new BSL-4 facility will play an integral role in preventing and controlling highly pathogenic microbes.”

What went so catastrophically wrong?


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