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Trump’s “miracle” COVID-19 treatment was developed using cells derived from an aborted fetus: report

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the South Lawn of the White House on October 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for coronavirus. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has not been shy in his praise for the experimental COVID-19 treatments he received after testing positive last week. In videos posted to Twitter, the president has falsely hailed the therapeutics as “cures” and “miracles coming down from God.”

One of the treatments made available to Trump would have been defeated by his own efforts to thwart the scientific research that made it possible: fetal cell tissue from abortions.

According to Trump’s personal physician, Dr. Sean Conley, the president received a high-dose infusion of monoclonal antibodies last Friday as part of his treatment for COVID-19 infection. Trump was one of the first 10 patients who received the treatment under “compassionate use” emergency access, Salon earlier reported. Several hours after the injection, the president was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center.

The fully-human antibody molecules, made by the pharmaceutical company Regeneron, come from two sources: antibodies identified from humans who have recovered from COVID-19 and the company’s “VelocImmune” mice, which have been genetically modified to have a human immune system, according to a statement provided to Salon by the drug manufacturer.

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The lab tests used to evaluate the effectiveness of the antibodies were derived from what the MIT Technology Review pointed out was a standard cell supply known as HEK 293T. It originated as kidney tissue derived from an abortion in the Netherlands in 1973, the same year Roe v. Wade was decided.

Those cells have since been “immortalized” in labs — they keep dividing endlessly, similar to cancerous growth — and have gone through other genetic changes, according to MIT. Over such a length of time, they can become disassociated from their origin.

“It’s how you want to parse it,” a Regeneron spokesperson told MIT. “But the 293T cell lines available today are not considered fetal tissue, and we did not otherwise use fetal tissue.”

But the line connecting the cell lines remains unbroken. The president undeniably benefited medically from cells originating from aborted fetuses.

Regeneron told MIT that other labs also use 293T cells to make what it describes as “pseudoparticles,” or virus-like bodies which have the coronavirus’ “spike” protein. Those particles are necessary in order to test how different antibodies work against the virus. Both antibodies in Regeneron’s treatment would have gone through those tests, MIT reported.

The Trump administration has restricted medical research using fetal tissue from abortions. In 2019, Trump himself overrode top administration scientists, such as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar, and tightened the reins on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund such research. It was an effort pushed by Vice President Mike Pence in an apparent appeal to religious conservative voters.


Trump’s Covid Treatments Were Tested in Cells Derived From Fetal Tissue

When the Trump administration suspended federal funding in 2019 for most new scientific research projects involving fetal tissue derived from abortions, officials argued that whatever the scientific benefits, there was a pressing moral imperative to find alternative research methods.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement released at the time.

Yet the treatment for Covid-19 received by Mr. Trump — a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies he described as a “cure” in a celebratory video posted on Twitter — was developed using human cells derived from a fetus aborted decades ago.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug that the president received late last week, was also developed with those cell lines. At least two companies racing to create a vaccine against the coronavirus, Moderna and AstraZeneca, are also relying on the cells. Johnson & Johnson is testing its vaccine in another so-called cell line originally produced from fetal tissue.

As participants in the White House’s Operation Warp Speed, all three vaccine-makers have received federal funding.

A Trump administration official argued on Thursday that the president’s embracing of the treatments was not a contradiction. The administration’s policy on fetal tissue research “specifically excluded” cell lines made before June 2019, said the official, who did not wish to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the matter.

Scientific products made using cell lines that existed before then “would not implicate the administration’s policy on the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions,” the official said.

Some scientists saw a double standard in the president’s endorsement. “Hypocrisy has never bothered the man, as near as I can tell,” Lawrence Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, who has used fetal tissue in his research, said of Mr. Trump.

Dr. Deepak Srivastava, a pediatric cardiologist who led the International Society for Stem Cell Research until July, said, “If they oppose this research, they should be willing to not take a drug that was developed using that.”

For decades, fetal tissue from abortions has been crucial to scientific research into treatments for conditions from birth defects to Ebola to cancer. And fetal tissue has been particularly important for studying the immune system, a key to designing treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases like Covid-19.

The cells used by most of the companies now trying to find a Covid-19 treatment, called the 293T line, were derived from the kidney tissue of a fetus aborted in the 1970s. A similar cell line, Per.C6, was obtained in 1985 from the retinal cells of an aborted 18-week-old fetus.

The treatment that Mr. Trump called a cure for Covid-19 is a cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies manufactured by Regeneron. Those antibodies are synthesized outside the body and then infused into patients to help fight off the infection.

Regeneron tested the antibodies against virus-like particles created using 293T human cells. The

COVID drug Trump touted as a “cure” was developed using cells derived from aborted fetal tissue

The antibody cocktail that President Trump received for his COVID-19 infection and touted on Wednesday evening as a “cure” for the deadly virus was developed using cells derived from aborted fetal tissue, a practice the White House and anti-abortion rights groups oppose.

Last week, Mr. Trump received Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, an experimental therapeutic for coronavirus that is still undergoing testing and is not FDA approved. In a nearly five-minute video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, the president lauded its effects, calling it “the key.”

“I think this was a blessing from God that I caught [the virus], I think it was a blessing in disguise,” Mr. Trump said in the video. “I caught it, I heard about this drug, I said, ‘Let me take it’ … and it was incredible the way it worked.”

But the way in which the antibody cocktail was developed is at odds with the Trump administration’s position on stem cell research. The drug’s potency was tested in a lab using HEK 293T cells, a cell line originally derived from the kidney tissue of a fetus aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s, said a spokesperson for Regeneron in an email to CBS News on Thursday. The cells “were used in testing the antibody candidates’ ability to neutralize the virus” and helped researchers “determine the ‘best’ two antibodies, which now make up the REGN-COV2 cocktail,” the spokesperson said.  

There is no fetal tissue present in the final product.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug Mr. Trump received, also was tested using the HEK 293T cells.

Last year, the Trump administration said it would no longer support long-standing funding for medical research by government scientists using human fetal tissue, a move that countered advice from physicians and researchers. The decision was seen as a major victory for anti-abortion rights groups.

Because the fetal cells used in developing Regeneron’s antibody cocktail were originally derived from an abortion prior to the funding ban, a White House official told CBS News on Thursday that the therapeutic wasn’t in violation of the administration’s new policy.

“The Administration’s policy on the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions in research specifically excluded ‘already-established (as of June 5, 2019) human fetal cell lines,” the official said. “Thus, a product made using extant cell lines that existed before June 5, 2019 would not implicate the Administration’s policy.”

Anti-abortion groups, which generally oppose the use of fetal tissue in pharmaceutical research, did not raise issue with the therapeutics used and promoted by the president.

“The president was not given any medicines to treat COVID-19 that involved the destruction of human life,” wrote David Prentice, Ph.D., and Tara Sander Lee, Ph.D., of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the anti-abortion rights political group the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement emailed to CBS News Wednesday afternoon. “No human embryonic stem cells or human fetal tissue were used to produce the treatments President Trump received – period.”

The researchers did not

Covid-19 Live Updates: Treatment That Trump Called a ‘Cure’ Was Tested With Cells Derived From Fetal Tissue

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The antibody cocktail for Covid-19 that President Trump touted on Wednesday afternoon was developed with cells originally derived from fetal tissue, a practice that the president had repeatedly condemned.

In June 2019, the Trump administration suspended federal funding for most new scientific research involving fetal tissue derived from abortions.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a prepared statement.

“Intramural research that requires new acquisition of fetal tissue from elective abortions will not be conducted,” the statement added.

Mr. Trump last week received Regeneron’s cocktail of monoclonal antibodies — essentially, antibodies synthesized in living cells and administered to help the body fight off the infection.

To develop the antibodies, Regeneron relied on 293T, a human cell line once derived from fetal tissue. At least two companies racing to produce vaccines against the coronavirus, Moderna and AstraZeneca, also are using the cell line.

Remdesivir, an antiviral drug Mr. Trump received, also was tested using these cells.

“293Ts were used in testing the antibodies’ ability to neutralize the virus,” said Alexandra Bowie, a spokeswoman for Regeneron. “They weren’t used in any other way, and fetal tissue was not used in the research.”

In a video released Wednesday, Mr. Trump praised Regeneron’s treatment, calling it a “cure” for Covid-19 and promising to provide it free to any patient who needed it. The company said on Wednesday that it had applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.

Scientists noted that the trials of the antibody cocktail are far from complete, and that Mr. Trump is taking a variety of drugs that may have explained why he said he felt better.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, the International Society for Stem Cell Research sent a letter to the Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board at the National Institutes of Health, urging the board to allow fetal tissue to be used to develop treatments for Covid-19 and for other diseases.

“Fetal tissue has unique and valuable properties that often cannot be replaced by other cell types,” the letter said.

In August, the board rejected 13 of the 14 proposals involving fetal tissue. The approved proposal relied on tissue that had already been acquired.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Thursday that he had been avoiding the White House since midsummer because of concerns that officials there were not taking proper precautions to guard