Wednesday, May 6, 2020

In mystery investigation of two Canadian scientists, a request for Ebola, henipavirus from the Wuhan lab

In mystery investigation of two Canadian scientists, a request for Ebola, henipavirus from the Wuhan lab

The shipment of Ebola and henipavirus samples to Wuhan has given rise to groundless conspiracy theories involving Xiangguo Qiu. But there is no evidence whatsoever tying her to COVID-19

Xiangguo Qiu receives a 2018 innovation award from governor general Julie Payette for her contribution to the development of a drug to fight Ebola.MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall.
Xiangguo Qiu was a star at the National Microbiology Laboratory, Canada’s premier disease-research facility. As the co-creator of a once-promising treatment for Ebola virus, her work earned kudos around the world.
That reputation made it all the more shocking when she and her biologist husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted from the lab last July as internal and RCMP investigations got underway.
But a year later, those inquiries have yet to be completed, the two scientists appear still in limbo and the Public Health Agency of Canada, which employs them, has revealed another link between the affair and Wuhan, the Chinese city that several months later became the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A shipment of Ebola and henipavirus samples to China, previously disclosed by the agency and first reported by the National Post, was requested specifically by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said Eric Morrissette, an agency spokesman. The institute runs the country’s lone BSL-4 disease lab, similar to the Winnipeg-based NML and the highest-security facility for handling pathogens.
An aerial view on April 17, 2020, of the P4 laboratory researching dangerous pathogens at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images
Qiu helped train staff at the Wuhan lab, among several trips she took to her native China in recent years.
Yet the government and police have divulged little else about the situation, leaving a haze of mystery over it that has spawned groundless COVID-19 conspiracy theories — and frustrated even NML employees.
“They have told the staff nothing, other than a ridiculous order last summer that we’re not allowed to discuss it or speculate about what may be going on,” said one Public Health Agency employee, not authorized to speak on the record. “Many of us think it is such a huge story that they are trying to keep buried for some pretty serious reasons. We just don’t know what those are.”
Some respected former colleagues, however, call Qiu a stellar researcher and say they doubt she was guilty of any wrongdoing.
Reached at home Monday, Qiu said she had no comment on her predicament.
The agency has said only that it was looking into an “administrative matter” and had referred “possible policy breaches” to the RCMP.
“The (internal) administrative review remains underway,” said Morrissette recently. “We cannot provide further details.”
As for the RCMP probe, “the matter is still under investigation. No charges have been laid at this time,” said Sgt. Paul Manaigre, a spokesman for the force in Manitoba.
Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory. Handout
The matter appears to have something to do with that shipment to Wuhan in March 2019 of samples of Ebola and henipavirus — another highly virulent family of pathogens. Neither is related to COVID-19.
“In response to a request from the (Wuhan) Institute for viral samples of Ebola and Henipah viruses, the Public Health Agency of Canada sent samples for the purpose of scientific research in 2019,” Morrissette said. “The National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) shares samples with other public health laboratories — as they do with the NML — to contribute to the advancement of science.”
Qiu’s earlier fame was the result of her work with Gary Kobinger, now a professor at Laval University, to develop “monoclonal antibodies” for treating Ebola, which eventually formed part of the drug Z-Mapp. Despite early promise, the results from a clinical trial published in 2019 raised doubts about its efficacy.
But the groundbreaking research won them the Governor General’s Award for Innovation and other accolades.
Then last July came the sudden, largely unexplained removal of Qiu and Cheng.
A native of China with a medical degree from Hebei University and a Masters in immunology from Tianjin University, Qiu settled in Canada in 1996, eventually ending up at the federal microbiology lab.
In the three years before her removal, she had made eight trips to China, including two to Wuhan, according to agency records obtained through access to information legislation, and first reported by the CBC.
She is a great researcher, she has been a great collaborator. I can’t say anything bad about her
Heinz Feldmann, former colleague
Many of the visits were to give talks on the high-profile Ebola work, which put the Public Health Agency “at the forefront of the field,” said the travel document
She travelled to Wuhan in September of 2017, the records indicating that she had been invited to train scientists and technicians at the BSL-4 lab “for 7-14 days per trip, twice a year for two years.”
Chinese researcher escorted from infectious disease lab amidst ...
Trends | People-Powered News
The training visits were paid for by a third party, whose identity was redacted from the agency document. Qiu returned to Wuhan the next month to speak at an international virology conference, the documents show.
The American government has raised the possibility that the virus causing COVID-19 escaped accidentally from the Wuhan lab, and U.S. diplomats said in a 2018 cable — according to a Washington Post report — that they had concerns about its safety.
Meanwhile, the visits to Wuhan and the shipment of Ebola and henipavirus samples have given rise to conspiracy theories involving Qiu and the pandemic. But there is no evidence whatsoever tying her or the Winnipeg lab to COVID-19, which American intelligence and science indicates is caused by a naturally occurring virus that likely originated in bats.
U.S. authorities have recently looked closely at ties between scientists from China and the country of their birth, warning that Beijing has a track record of using such expatriates to obtain intellectual property, legally or not. Some have been charged or are under police investigation.
Former colleagues of Qiu’s in Winnipeg, however, have said it’s hard to imagine she would be part of anything like that, and note that international collaboration is an integral part of science.
Kobinger told the National Post last year that research involving Ebola — with its minimal commercial potential — would be an unlikely target of economic espionage, suggesting the investigation was a case of “politicizing science, because of tensions between two countries.”
“She is a great researcher, she has been a great collaborator,” Heinz Feldmann, who once ran the NML unit where Qiu works and now heads a U.S.-government BSL-4 lab, told the Post last July. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments always welcome!