In the third part of Paula Jardine’s investigation into the circumstances under which Moderna were able to have a Covid Vaccine on the way before Covid had been confirmed, she examines signs of haste in the plan to roll out the vaccines and evidence that at least one Moderna director may have lacked full confidence in the programme. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
THE Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation’s (CEPI) stated objective on January 23, 2020, was to get a Covid vaccine into human clinical trials within 16 weeks. As of January 6, Moderna had previously tested three other mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases on only 365 people, half of whom received placebos. CEPI, eager to fulfil its self-appointed mission to save the world from epidemics, was unconcerned about Moderna’s technology being new and unproven. It wasted little time in agreeing to finance the manufacture of ‘clinical grade material’ for the first human trials.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), co-owner of the Moderna prototype coronavirus vaccine, and whose long term Director is Anthony Fauci, began recruiting volunteers for the Phase 1 trial it ran on behalf of Moderna, on March 16, 2020. The recruitment announcement placed by its parent body, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said that VRC (Vaccine Research Centre) and Moderna scientists were already working on an investigational MERS vaccine targeting the spike protein, ‘which provided a head start for developing a vaccine candidate to protect against COVID-19’.
Much of the preliminary research was done by a former doctoral student of Dr Ralph Baric, Dr Kizzmekia Corbett.
(Dr Baric, as detailed in Part 2 of this investigation, conducted animal testing on the prototype coronavirus vaccines. He is a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and also in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the University now renowned for viral ‘gain of function’ research which was placed under a moratorium in the US in October 2014. Baric developed many of the reverse-genetics techniques used to alter the function of viruses that are now used by other virologists including those at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and maintains a collegial relationship with Dr Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan Institute of Virology bat researcher.)
Once the genetic information of SARS-CoV-2 became available, courtesy of Professor Edward Holmes on January 11, 2020, the NIH said, ‘the scientists quickly selected a sequence to express the stabilized spike protein of the virus in the existing mRNA platform’.
Amendment 1 to the June 2019 Moderna/NIH Research Collaboration Agreement was signed by the NIH on January 13 2020, nearly a month after Moderna had signed it, giving the appearance that the NIH were indeed waiting for something.
Research collaboration agreements and royalty agreements customarily stipulate which NIH patents are being used by industry partners and how and when royalties are to be paid to the US Federal Government agency if a product is successfully commercialised. The unredacted parts of the AXIOS FOI documents contain no mention of any intellectual property relating to a spike protein. Under the 1986 Federal Technology Transfer Act the NIH researchers named on the patents may also receive royalty payments of up to $150,000 per year from each licensee. By November 2020, the NIH-designed SARS CoV2 prefusion stabilised spike protein had been licensed to 21 biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, most of whom were planning to utilise it in vaccines.
Despite the December 2019 material transfer agreement for the prototype vaccine between Professor Baric, the NIH and Moderna, stating that the coronavirus vaccine was jointly owned by Moderna and the NIAID, Moderna did not name three NIH employees, Dr Corbett, Dr Barney Graham and Dr John Mascola, as the co-inventors on their patent application for the COVID vaccine. This subsequently led to a dispute between the two collaboration partners. Moderna argued its researchers had independently developed the mRNA sequence for the vaccine. NIH researchers, however, said that they developed the sequence and shared it with the company.
A US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure filed two weeks after the NIH began recruiting volunteers for the Phase 1 human trial reveals that Dr Tal Zaks, Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) who was responsible for overseeing clinical trials, accepted an inducement to stay with the firm. On March 29, 2020, Zaks signed an executive retention agreement with the company awarding him a $1million bonus providing he didn’t leave the company before 30 September 2021.
Zaks started selling his Moderna shares in February 2020 at a regular rate reported by STAT NEWS to be making him $1million a week. It said corporate governance experts described this sell-off as ‘uniquely alarming’ given his importance in overseeing the clinical trials. High-volume sales of company stock by insiders undermine market confidence in the company.
By September Forbes magazine were questioning why Moderna insiders were selling so much stock and asking if they had concerns with the vaccine that weren’t being shared with investors. Zaks alone had sold $50 million worth by October 2020.
On April 25 2020, five weeks after the NIH commenced Phase I human testing of the Moderna vaccine, Jeremy Farrar (Director of the Wellcome Trust and a co-founder of CEPI), Dr Richard Hatchett, (CEPI’s CEO) Dr Antony Fauci, the Director of NIAID and Dr George Gao, head of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, all took part in a webinar organized by Dr Victor Dzau, the President of the US National Academy of Medicine.
Although the case fatality rate is now known to be comparable to flu, Gao reported that Chinese data in April 2020 put the crude case fatality rate at 5.6 per cent. He said China had confirmed 1,575 symptomatic cases and 44 suspected asymptomatic cases. Gao added that with no treatment and no vaccines, the Chinese had introduced what he termed ‘classical non-pharmaceutical interventions’ of social distancing, masking, handwashing, travel restrictions and lockdowns.
Both Jeremy Farrar and Richard Hatchett insisted ‘the exit strategy’ from the pandemic, not to mention the lockdowns which were being used to manage it that had also now spread beyond China, was a vaccine. Hatchett, an oncologist who became a US Homeland Security official after experiencing the trauma of the 9/11 attacks first hand in New York, is the primary author of the 2006 US Pandemic Influenza plan and is credited with having developed social distancing as a ‘classical non-pharmaceutical intervention’. Lockdowns are mentioned in his 2006 plan but perhaps to avoid any association with the prison management software of the same name during a time of heightened post-9/11 sensitivities over the curtailment of civil liberties, he calls them ‘snow days’.
(A footnote in the annex of the 2005 WHO global influenza preparedness plan reveals that a recommendation to consider population wide measures to reduce the number of cases and death by reducing mixing of adults was made ‘given a pandemic strain with significant morbidity and mortality in all age groups occurring and the absence of a vaccine’. The suggested measures included closing work places, discouraging mass gatherings and furloughing non-essential workers. The use of the word furlough, a term used for the temporary layoff of US government employees during government shutdowns due to Congressional budgetary impasses such as those in 1995 and 1996, indicates this contribution to the consultation in December 2004 came from the US.)
During the webinar, Hatchett said: ‘I think Covid represents an absolute watershed. The effect on global society, on the economy, literally everybody on the planet, is absolutely going to change the approach to preparing for these kinds of events in the future and it will be a very very, different world.’
Aside from their links to CEPI, Gao and Farrar are old friends from Oxford University in the mid-1990s. It turns out that Professor Edward Holmes, the virologist who tweeted the Covid virus genome sequence and some of whose research has been funded by Farrar’s Wellcome Trust, was a fellow at Oxford during the same time.
You are bound to wonder about the ways in which they helped Hatchett to execute CEPI’s ‘just in case, just in time’ vaccine plan.
Moderna Vaccine Timeline