The following is an excerpt from MedPage Today.
Boston University has pushed back on media reports that their researchers created a new and deadly strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The institution emphatically denied stories by various media outlets that implied the spawning of a dangerous new Covid strain in the lab -- some of which cited an 80% kill rate -- calling them "false and inaccurate" in a statement issued in response to the articles circulating online.
"First, this research is not gain-of-function research, meaning it did not amplify the [ancestral] SARS-CoV-2 virus strain or make it more dangerous," Boston University (BU) said in the statement. "In fact, this research made the virus replicate less dangerous."
The research aimed to study whether the Omicron spike protein, with its many mutations, is responsible for the Covid variant's high transmissibility and association with attenuated disease, according to a bioRxiv preprint published on Friday.
In order to study those areas, researchers combined the Omicron spike protein with the ancestral strain of the virus, and compared it with the naturally circulating Omicron variant.
They found in the animal model that while the naturally circulating Omicron variant caused mild, non-fatal infection, the combined virus inflicted severe disease with a mortality rate of 80% in 10 mice (the wild type virus led to a 100% mortality rate in six mice).
The finding indicates that while vaccine escape is defined by mutations in the Omicron spike protein, major determinants of viral pathogenicity reside outside of the spike protein, the researchers stated.
"The animal model that was used was a particular type of mouse that is highly susceptible, and 80 to 100 percent of the infected mice succumb to disease from the original strain, the so-called Washington strain," Corley stated in the article. "Whereas Omicron causes a very mild disease in these animals."
He said that the 80% figure used in media headlines "totally misrepresents not only the findings, but [also] the purpose of the study."
But BU is said to have drawn government scrutiny as a result of the research, according to STAT, which reported that "the research team did not clear the work with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases [NIAID], which was one of the funders of the project."
"The agency indicated it is going to be looking for some answers as to why it first learned of the work through media reports," STAT said. As of press time, NIAID did not provide further comment to MedPage Today.
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