A secret military-linked U.K. laboratory is making new variants of Covid and working on a vaccine for ‘Disease X’ in order to stop the next pandemic “in its tracks”, according to the BBC. James Gallagher has more.
One of the U.K.’s most secretive centres of scientific research – Porton Down – is aiming to stop the next pandemic “in its tracks”.
I have passed through the incredibly tight security at this remote facility to get rare access to its scientists.
They are based in the shiny new Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre.
Their work builds on the response to Covid, and aims to save lives and minimise the need for lockdowns when a new disease next emerges.
“Covid, of course, is not a one-off,” says Prof. Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which runs these laboratories.
“We say it [Covid] was the biggest public health incident for a century, but I don’t think any of us think it’ll be a century before the next,” she adds.
The combination of climate change, urbanisation and people living closer to animals – the source of many new diseases which transfer to people – means we’re facing a “rising tide of risk”, she says.
Porton Down – located in the tranquil Wiltshire countryside, near Salisbury – is one of the few places in the world equipped to research some of the nastiest viruses and bacteria you could imagine. The freezers here contain the likes of Ebola.
Neighbouring buildings include the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (part of the Ministry of Defence), where it was confirmed the nerve agent Novichok has been used in the Salisbury poisonings.
The vaccine laboratories – housed in dark green buildings – were hastily constructed as part of the emergency response to Covid.
But, as the intense demands of the pandemic have waned, the focus has shifted.
The new vaccine research centre is concentrating on three types of threat:
- known infections that are getting harder to deal with, such as antibiotic-resistant superbugs
- potential threats that might cause a problem, including bird flu and new Covid variants
- and ‘Disease X’ – something unforeseen, like Covid, which takes the world by complete surprise
The aim is to work with the pharmaceutical industry, scientists and doctors to support all stages of vaccine development.
Porton Down scientists are working on the first vaccine against Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever, which is spread by ticks and kills about a third of those infected.
The disease is found in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and in Asia – and could spread further with climate change.
At the other end of the process, vaccine effectiveness is evaluated. It was scientists here who spotted that the Omicron variant could bypass some of the protection afforded by Covid vaccines.
And they are still monitoring new Covid variants by growing them in the laboratory, exposing them to antibodies taken from blood samples and seeing if new variants are still able to infect.
A secret laboratory linked to the Ministry of Defence where they make new variants of Covid, you say? What could go wrong. We’re expected to assume, of course, that they only grow existing ‘new variants’ rather than, as per Pfizer, modified versions. But who’s really to say?
Gallagher reports that the work feeds into the ‘100 Days Mission’ to develop a vaccine against a new threat in super-fast time.
Yet we know that one real possibility is that COVID-19 itself was created as part of and leaked during vaccine research – as Robert Kadlec, Anthony Fauci’s old boss, has recently suggested. Not climate change, not animal transfer, but vaccine research. Perhaps we’re the ones making the pandemics these days.
Prof. Harries says that in the future we need to be on the front foot and “try and stop” any pandemic before it even begins, or, failing that, to “stop it in its tracks” at its earliest stage.
Sounds absolutely terrifying. They have clearly learned nothing.
Stop Press: A reader reminds me that the 2007 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease originated with a leak from the Pirbright Institute, one of eight U.K. research institutes supported by the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).