Emerging Pandemic Risks Come From Engineered Viruses in Chinese Labs, Not the Jungle or Bat Caves

September 4, 2021 Updated: October 6, 2021

Commentary

It’s essential that we refocus our capabilities on the demonstrably highest probability source of the next pandemic: genetically engineered viruses that are being increasingly created in labs in China.

Aggregating Disparate Information

Over the course of late 2019 to the present, humanity has experienced the most disruptive series of events since World War II. However, unlike the World War II period, many of those affected remain bewildered and lacking access to even fundamental information regarding the origin, current status, or what success even looks like in this situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific region, caused massive economic hardship, and generated domestic chaos across multiple systemically important nations in Asia, the Middle East, and the West.

Over the course of this period, there are several previously disparate pieces of information that, when logically aggregated, generate a clear signal from what is otherwise a sea of undefined noise.

COVID-19 Relevant Patent Filings Since 1998

Dr. David Martin is the founder and chairman of M-Cam, the world’s leading international intangible asset underwriter that specializes in innovation finance, trade finance, and intangible asset finance. Since 1998, Martin and his team have developed a unique database and other related data assets focused on patent activity that is directly related to coronaviruses. The M-Cam team conducted a disciplined and comprehensive study that reviewed coronavirus-related patent filings since 1998.

Martin’s findings, all of which can be independently verified through publicly available patent databases, are astonishing.

Fundamentally, Martin has clearly demonstrated that the virus that causes COVID-19 is neither genetically nor clinically novel in any sense and hasn’t been so in more than 20 years. He and his team also identify, isolate, and assess an April 19, 2002, U.S. patent filing (U.S. Patent Number 72279327) that clearly demonstrates that American researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill literally engineered the SARS virus.

For some historical context, the first officially identified case of the alleged SARS outbreak in China was in Guangdong Province in November 2002.

A man wearing a mask to protect himself from SARS, walks by a news headline at a newsstand on a street in Hong Kong, in May 2003. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)
A man wearing a mask to protect himself from SARS, walks by a news headline at a newsstand on a street in Hong Kong, in May 2003. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

The patent record itself shows that SARS isn’t a natural progression of a zoonotic (animal origin) modification of coronavirus. In other words, Martin’s research suggests that the patent record demonstrates that the first SARS virus may not have originated in nature. The April 2002 U.S. patent describes the bioengineering work as producing an infectious, replication-defective coronavirus that was specifically targeted for human lung epithelium—that is a description of SARS.

Martin notes that this patent lays out the fact that these researchers knew that the ACE receptor, ACE2 binding domain, the S1 spike protein, and other elements could be synthetically modified in laboratory settings. This could be done using existing gene sequencing technologies (even back in 2002) to utilize computer code to turn this genetic sequence into a pathogen or an intermediate host of a pathogen.

This work was funded in its critical early stages in the United States under the scientific rationale that this SARS virus could be a vector to distribute a universal HIV vaccine, the lifelong (and still unrealized) pipe dream of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. However, it was also noted by these scientists that this same exact research had bioweapon applications as well.

Serious Lab Security Incidents Occur More Often Than We Think

Dr. Marc Lipsitch of Harvard has been at the forefront of systematically identifying and determining the risk of high-risk pathogen research in quantifiable, and therefore independently verifiable, terms. His works cover various open-source case studies of serious errors made in advanced Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) and even Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) settings in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and China.

Lipsitch’s work has also revealed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives on average two reports per week regarding serious incidents pertaining to Select Agents (high-risk biomaterials that pose clear risks to public health) from labs in the United States alone.

If this is the general rate of these events in the United States, it isn’t an unreasonable or unfair assumption that this rate also likely remains (at a minimum) consistent in China as well. This is due to the (at least officially) globally consistent engineering, lab management, and other related protocols and standards of BSL3 and BSL4 labs. It should also be noted that many of China’s leading scientists who engage in multiple forms of high-risk pathogen research have been trained in the United States, with some even having worked inside the CDC before returning to China.

When considering Martin’s patent-based evidence that the SARS virus was likely initially created in a laboratory in 2002, the above-mentioned statistic becomes problematic. This U.S. patent filing, combined with multiple linked scientific publications, enabled critical know-how to become globally accessible for the first time. Also problematic is the fact that the lead researcher on this patent, Dr. Ralph Baric, has an extensive track record of joint research and publications with like-minded Chinese counterparts, including Dr. Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, among multiple others.

Advances in Reverse Genetics

Dr. Xiaoxu Sean Lin, a former U.S. Army officer and biodefense expert, has determined that recent advances in reverse genetic engineering technologies, such as those that have been developed by Dr. Shi Zhengli and a range of her Chinese and international collaborators, render synthetic lab-created coronaviruses indistinguishable from coronaviruses originally found in nature. The implications of these developments are difficult to overstate.

For one, this injects a fundamental degree of uncertainty and unreliability into the countless investigations that are occurring across the world that seek to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Epoch Times Photo
Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of COVID-19 leave the Hubei provincial center for disease control and prevention, in Wuhan, China, on Feb. 1, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

Secondly, these advanced technologies enable a strong degree of plausible deniability in the event of a lab leak when engineering synthetic coronaviruses, conducting gain-of-function experiments on previously natural coronaviruses, and other high-risk pathogen research. The use of these technologies in laboratory settings has traditionally been confined to a relatively finite number of research groups in China and several Western countries.

However, my colleague and I have recently identified a broader diffusion process that appears to be underway within China itself. Continuous monitoring, risk assessment, and the development of concrete response options must be an absolute priority.

Most Naturally Occurring Zoonoses Aren’t Human-to-Human Transmissible

Billions of dollars continue to be spent on government- and NGO-administered infectious disease surveillance and control programs in frontier environments across the world, and in the tropics in particular. These funds are often justified on the grounds that these programs represent an early warning detection system to rapidly identify and prevent global pandemics. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is particularly active in this domain and has previously worked extensively in China. However, SARS-CoV-2 appears to have flown right past them.

This isn’t to suggest that the infectious disease surveillance and control work done by the USAID and others isn’t valuable. However, it must be noted that the majority of zoonotic pathogens that infect humans with the highest statistical frequency, such as malaria, dengue, scrub typhus, melioidosis, leptospirosis, and others aren’t transmissible between humans. Therefore, they don’t pose a high risk of causing a global, or even regional, pandemic.

Targeted Early Warning System Must Be Developed

The fact pattern outlined in this piece leads to an inescapable fact-based conclusion. We have spent billions with countless dedicated clinicians, scientists, and others working tirelessly to protect public health. However, we don’t presently have a pandemic risk surveillance system that corresponds to the current threat environment let alone the new rapidly emerging one.

It’s essential that we recalibrate and refocus our capabilities on the demonstrably highest probability source of the next pandemic: synthetic viruses that are increasingly being created in labs in China. American and other Western scientists were fundamental in the early stages of this process, but they have now been relegated to the sidelines.

This structural shift needs to be broadly recognized and directly acted upon immediately.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Ryan Clarke
Ryan Clarke
Ryan Clarke is a senior fellow at the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore. His career has spanned leadership positions in defense and intelligence technology companies, investment banking, biodefense, strategic assessments, emergency response, and law enforcement. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.