The Regeneron antibody therapy for COVID-19 that President Donald Trump extolled as “miracles coming down from God,” was developed with human fetal tissue, a material his administration opposes, The Washington Post reported.
The effectiveness of the antibody therapy was tested by employing a fetal tissue cell line from the 1980s widely used in biomedical research, according to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, its manufacturer.
The cell line is old enough that it would fall outside restrictions on federal funding of fetal tissue research the Trump administration imposed last year, according to National Institutes of Health guidelines.
But the president’s repeated praise for the antibody cocktail he requested and received when he was first hospitalized nearly a week ago has generated controversy, given his clampdown on fetal tissue research at the urging of social conservatives crucial to his political base.
“It’s blatant hypocrisy,” said Lawrence Goldstein, a senior faculty member at the University of California at San Diego, who has used fetal tissue in his research.
“A lot of the opponents [of fetal tissue research] have looked the other way” when it comes to the cell line involved in both the Regeneron therapy and some of the coronavirus vaccines being developed, said Goldstein, who sits on a federal ethics advisory board created over the summer to review whether NIH should provide federal grants or contracts to researchers whose proposals were deemed scientifically deserving.
The board recommended rejecting all but one of the 14 proposals.
Another advisory board member, David Prentice, vice president and research director of the antiabortion Charlotte Lozier Institute, said Trump’s use of the experimental cocktail does not raise ethical concerns.
The reason, Prentice said, is because the fetal cell line was involved only in testing whether the antibody works in helping to defeat the virus, not in making the antibody itself.
“We would prefer they not use the controversial cell line even in the testing, because there are other alternatives,” Prentice said.
“But that testing on the side doesn’t affect me in terms of the recipient of the drug.”
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said that, under NIH guidelines, “a product made using extant cells lines that existed before June 5, 2019 would not implicate the administration’s policy on the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions.”
The controversy emerged after Trump appeared in a video released Wednesday evening, standing in the sunlight outside the White House, praising the Regeneron therapy as what he inaccurately characterized as a cure for the virus.
He said his diagnosis with the virus that has killed at least 211,000 people in the United States was a “blessing from God” because it allowed him to discover firsthand how the antibody cocktail left him feeling “great . . . like, perfect.”
In the video, Trump sounded like a pitchman for the experimental antibodies. “For me, I walked in, I didn’t feel good,” the president said of his arrival at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after developing what his doctors have said was a high fever and a the first of two drops in his blood oxygen level.
“A short 24 hours later, I was feeling great. I wanted to get out of the hospital. And that’s what I want for everybody. I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your president.”
Trump said he wanted the therapy to be available at no cost to patients. And getting ahead of the review that will be undertaken by the Food and Drug Administration, he said, “I have emergency use authorisation all set.”