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Taiwan-based scientist makes case for lab origin of COVID

Steven Quay says vital to put guardrails in place for virus research in labs like Wuhan to prevent accidental release of pathogens

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(Taiwan News image)

(Taiwan News image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Dr. Steven Quay has said his research into the origins of COVID shows the virus likely resulted from a lab incident in Wuhan, China.

During an interview with Taiwan News on May 9, Quay said that based on the concentration of research activities in Wuhan specializing in coronaviruses, its distance from the wild bats that carry SARS-like viruses, and a Bayesian Analysis, there is a high probability the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan.

Quay added there is a lack of genetic evidence to believe raccoon dogs were the intermediate host for the virus and the animals are poor carriers of the disease, even to other raccoon dogs.

Quay is a physician and scientist based in Taipei and has authored more than 360 scientific articles on science and medicine. Since the outbreak of COVID, he has been conducting research into the virus, and on June 29, 2021 he testified at a hearing held on COVID's origins at the House Oversight Committee. On Aug. 3, 2022, he testified at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee hearing on virus research funding.

According to Quay, there is evidence in the genome to indicate the virus may have first leaked from a lab in September or October. Reports of infected lab staff in November combined with hospitalizations in December point to a potential second lab accident. Quay said there are precedents for multiple lab leaks with SARS 1.

Quay said the characteristics of COVID largely rule out theories that it started out as a vaccine. He urged caution when considering the possibility that COVID was the result of biowarfare experiments. Even so, he noted that civilian and military dual-purpose research does occur and SARS-CoV-2's ability to transmit asymptomatically is "extremely rare" with new respiratory viruses.

He predicted that a smoking gun may never be found, but accumulated circumstantial evidence builds a strong case for the lab leak theory. He added it was important to put guardrails in place on virus research to prevent the accidental release of pathogens.

Quay also warned that he had unearthed evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is continuing to experiment on lethal viruses.

1. When the pandemic first began, what signs indicated to you that this may have been a lab incident?

I think it was to look at the location of where viruses like this live. Because a virus will typically be in a bat colony, and it will go 40 or 50 kilometers from its location. But Wuhan is about 1,000 kilometers from the cousins of Sars-CoV-2.

That fact, coupled with the fact that some of the most intense research on coronaviruses in the world over the last two decades, over 60% of all the research in the world is done in Wuhan itself.

2. Given the information that we have now, what are the odds you think COVID was the result of a lab incident?

I looked at this from a mathematical way, and looked at all of the evidence, and then used a process that is commonly used called the Bayesian Analysis (paper under peer review, but not yet passed). And you get to over a 98% probability that this was not from nature and that it came from a laboratory.

3. What is your response to recent claims that raccoon dogs started the pandemic?

The evidence that people are talking about is the fact that there is a market where many early cases occurred. We knew early on that there was wildlife in this market that was susceptible to SARS-CoV-2.

In fact, SARS-CoV-2 can infect a wide range of mammals, so the finding of the animals there was not necessarily probative. When the genetic material in the specimens from the animals were looked at, they did not have the virus within them.

I think it was a very interesting hypothesis, but the hypothesis was disproved by the absence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in the specimens that had the raccoon dogs.

4. As far as raccoon dogs go, are there any signs that this animal has carried the virus or transmitted the virus in China?

That is a very interesting question and, in fact, laboratory experiments with raccoon dogs show they are not a very good host. It's actually difficult to infect and transmit from one raccoon dog to the other, so it doesn't meet the criteria of an intermediate host, even in a theoretical sense.

5. Can you elaborate on the new evidence that there were two lab incidents?

The evidence is within the genome. If you look at the process that takes you back to the first genetic virus and you do the timing on that, it appears to be in the September, October timeframe. There is also a burst of cases in December, we're very aware of that, a lot of discussion around that. Those two events — the genetics that take you into the September, October timeframe and the human hospital incidents in December — could support two separate introductions into the community.

6. What kind of scenarios would cause that kind of situation to occur?

It would be two independent laboratory accidents. There is actually precedence for this in SARS 1, where a single laboratory had two separate accidental releases into the community.

SARS 1 is very interesting. It began in a wildlife market and it ended with laboratory-acquired infections (LAI), lab leaks, as they sometimes are called. The same epidemic had the book ends for the current theory for SARS-CoV-2.

7. Is there evidence that it started with a failed vaccine program?

I think that the evidence I have rules that out. There are some very specific changes you need to make in coronaviruses if you're going to use them as vaccines.

It's a bit complicated and in the weeds, but the simple answer is that they tend to recombine a great deal. There are some genetic ways to block recombination that have been recommended or actually been patented for making vaccines for coronaviruses.

SARS-CoV-2 has none of those elements. If someone were making a vaccine, they would know the proper way to make a coronavirus vaccine. It doesn't have those elements. That's my evidence that it did not start as a vaccine.

8. Is there any evidence that this was a bioweapon of some sort?

That is an important question and a very ... dangerous is the wrong word, but I think you need to be careful when you look at that. Unfortunately, like many types of research, civilian-based research, military-based research can often be the same process in the laboratory and it's only what is in the minds of the people doing it or on paper what their goal was to know the difference.

For example, asymptomatic transmission is extremely rare in new respiratory viruses. It's one of the features of SARS-CoV-2. It's one of the things that fooled doctors for almost two months.

If there was evidence of research of that, it could have been done to understand how asymptomatic transmission can occur from a wild virus or would that be a purposeful feature of something that had a more nefarious intent.

9. What are some developments coming down the road that might show us more evidence of the origin of COVID?

I think we have to assume that we probably will never get what you might call a forensic examination of the laboratories or even the market by Western scientists, Western investigators.

We're in a situation where, as I sometimes describe it, we have a spouse who has disappeared. We have a spouse who looks highly suspicious.

The district attorney has to say, "OK, I don't have a body, but I have the circumstantial evidence that I think I can put this spouse away for the murder of their wife."

That evidence is presented in a trial. We do go to the most extreme criminal cases with only circumstantial evidence and we can successfully move that through the judicial process. I think that's where we're going to have to end up, in terms of this process.

10. What steps could be taken to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, if it was a lab incident?

I think that is probably the more important thing we need to go to, which is, if this virus came from a laboratory and it's spread around the world ... One way I look at it is two natural viruses, SARS 1 and MERS infect about 10,000 people, killed about 1,000 in one case and 3,000 in another.

So 10,000 people is the capacity for a natural spillover. We now have a virus that has probably infected 2 to 3 billion people. That may be the measure of the difference between a laboratory gain of function (GOF) virus and a natural virus. Having said that, stopping or putting guardrails around this kind of research, I think, is the most critical thing we can do now.

11. There is evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is conducting new gain of function experiments?

Yes, and this is probably the most important motivation for me to try to put guardrails around this kind of research. The work that I and my colleagues have done over the last three years has allowed us to basically do a forensic examination of the kind of research going on inside any laboratory in the world over the last two years.

During that process, we found three separate incidences of gain of function research; synthetic biology research, involving MERS virus, which is approximately 30% lethal; involving an influenza virus, which is approximately 49% lethal; and the Nipah virus, which is between 80-90% lethal. This is synthetic biology with all of the tools that are used to move genes around and to juice up viruses.

All of this research going on inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, identified since January 2020, when this pandemic started. We have just barely survived a 1% lethal virus, SARS-CoV-2.

These are civilization-ending viruses based on my analysis of the Black Plague, which was about a 25% lethal event. It's a 500-year setback for civilization if one of these viruses gets out of the lab.

Steven Quay is the founder of Seattle-based Atossa Therapeutics Inc. (Nasdaq: ATOS), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing novel therapeutics and delivery methods for breast cancer and other breast conditions. He received his M.D. and Ph.D. from The University of Michigan, was a postdoctoral fellow at MIT with Nobel Laureate H. Gobind Khorana, a resident at the Harvard-MGH Hospital, and was on the faculty of Stanford University School of Medicine. His contributions to medicine have been cited over 9,600 times.

He has founded six startups, invented seven FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, and holds 87 U.S. patents. Over 80 million people have benefited from the medicines he invented. He has testified in the U.S. Congress twice on the topic of the origin of COVID and regulations to protect the world from the next pandemic.

For the rest of the interview, click on the video below: