ON December 13, 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that Sir Jeremy Farrar, the current director of the Wellcome Trust, would be joining as its Chief Scientist. In a few weeks, Farrar will take the helm of its science division, which ‘harnesses the power of science and innovation’, providing ‘global leadership in leveraging the best scientific evidence to improve health and promote health equity for all’.
The science division’s creation in 2019 was a part of the WHO’s ‘transformation’. It is, it says, ‘instrumental in making WHO the trusted source of the best scientific evidence about Covid-19, its treatment and prevention’, playing, it says, a ‘key role in countering the infodemic of misinformation’.
So what’s it really up to?
In July 2022, the WHO Science Council, which was set up by the outgoing chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan, published its first report. Its first priority is to accelerate access to genomics for global health, arguing that it ‘is not justifiable ethically or scientifically for less-resourced countries to gain access to such technologies long after rich countries do’. This is the same argument that Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, makes to open up markets for new vaccines in low- and middle-income countries and which was used as a justification for the creation of the COVAX loan facility to help such countries pay for Covid vaccines.
In retrospect it’s perhaps no surprise. Farrar is a strategic adviser to the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. It was set up in 2013 and ‘aims to accelerate progress in genomic research and human health by cultivating a common framework of standards and harmonised approaches for effective and responsible genomic and health-related data sharing’.
In 2020 the Wellcome Trust, which Farrar heads, was ahead of the game. In May, a few weeks after the UK Covid vaccine taskforce was launched, Wellcome announced it was creating a US-based ‘advanced research non-profit’ organisation called Wellcome Leap to ‘accelerate innovations in global health’.
Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (who subsequently worked at Google and Facebook) was hired as its chief executive, promising to bring with her DARPA’s approach of putting together a ‘Special Forces’ team of diverse capabilities.
‘The global pandemic is our generation’s Sputnik,’ said Dugan. ‘It is calling on us to respond urgently – now – and also to create new capabilities for the future. We need new, risk-tolerant innovation organisations to drive health advances at the pace the world needs them, not only for the current crisis, but for the most pressing global health challenges of our time.’
The mRNA technology, says Wellcome Leap, has ‘demonstrated the ability to change the timeline for developing and delivering a new vaccine from years to months’. It and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, are jointly funding a programme called R3 which ‘shifts the most difficult and complex parts of manufacturing –the key proteins needed for a vaccine – to the natural bioreactor that is the human body’. Wellcome Leap calls mRNA technology, which Dr Robert Kadlec’s Manhattan Project launched on humanity via a regulatory wormhole, the ‘greatest scientific accomplishments of our generation’. The R3 plan is to build a ‘global network of biofoundries’ to ‘increase exponentially the number of biologic products that can be designed, developed, and produced every year, reducing their costs and increasing equitable access; and to create a self-sustaining network of manufacturing facilities providing globally distributed, state-of-the-art surge capacity to meet future pandemic needs’.
Wellcome Leap claims mRNA vaccines have minimal side effects. A growing body of evidence suggests otherwise.
The UK government was a little slower out of the blocks than Wellcome, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock launching ‘Genome UK: The future of healthcare’ on September 26, 2020. The strategy, which lashes together artificial intelligence, genomics and patient records, ‘sets out how the genomics community will work together to harness the latest advances in genetic and genomic science, research, and technology for the benefit of patients’. Care is to be taken to ensure that patients and the public trust and have confidence that ‘healthcare data is being used wisely and overseen by people who have their best interests at heart’ and the arrangements with private entities are mutually beneficial. The ambition was fully to sequence a million whole genomes by 2023/24.
Life Sciences Minister Lord Bethell said: ‘As we face the single biggest global health emergency in our lifetimes, now, more than ever, it is paramount that we harness the potential of genomics, to support earlier detection and faster diagnosis of disease, tailor and target treatments and protect against threats to public health.’ Two months later, it was Bethell who signed the temporary use authorisation for the first batch of Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA Covid vaccine.
The UK is not alone in trying to capitalise. On January 6, 2021, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded an exclusive deal with Pfizer, offering up Israel’s people as a laboratory. He said: ‘Ninety-eight per cent of our population has digitalised medical records, a little card, and anywhere you go in any hospital in Israel, boom, you punch it in and you know everything about this patient for the last 20 years. I said [to Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer], “We’ll use that to tell you what these vaccines, what do they do to people, not individual people, with their individual identities but statistically. What do they do to people with meningitis, with high blood pressure? What is it you want to know?” So Israel became, if you will, the lab for Pfizer, and that’s how we did it, we gave the information to the world.’
The Pfizer deal may explain why in 2021 Israel’s ‘green pass’ system was amongst the most coercive in the world. Some might even say there’s a tacit admission in there that Pfizer didn’t really understand what mRNA vaccines would do when they were rolled out with the ambition of putting a needle in every arm on the planet.
Netanyahu’s ambitions go much further, pointing to the real objective. ‘I intend to bring on that database of medical records for the entire population, a genetic database,’ he said. ‘Genomes. OK, give me a saliva sample. Volunteer. I’m sure most people would do it. Maybe we’ll pay them. Now we have a genetic record, on a medical record of a robust population, we have people from 100 lands. That’s a very powerful engine.
‘Now let pharma companies, medical companies, run algorithms on this database. I’m telling you right away, they’ll give preference for a few years to Israeli firms and then to the world, but you can create a biotechnological industry that is unheard of right now.’
The authorisation of the mRNA vaccines broke the gene therapy logjam created after the death of 18-year-old American Jesse Gellsinger in a 1999 gene therapy clinical trial. In 2021, at a WEF-sponsored Global Technology Governance Summit, Amy Webb, a New York University business professor, participated in a panel discussion on synthetic biology, a category which includes mRNA and CRISPR. ‘Generally speaking, we’re talking about improving biology and redesigning organisms for beneficial purposes,’ she said. ‘It’s going to allow us to not just edit genomes, but also and importantly, write a new code for life. This can transform not just health but materials, our economy and fashion. I can’t give an area in which we won’t see a significant improvement.’
Let’s call a spade a spade and go back to calling this what we used to call it – eugenics. And be ever mindful as the WHO pandemic treaty and vaccine passport projects continue, with the potential for your DNA to become the means by which your identification is verified, that the man who will soon be in charge of setting the global agenda for it is Sir Jeremy Farrar.