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Pfizer denies conducting gain-of-function research after executive details COVID mutation efforts

In gain-of-function research, scientists genetically modify a virus, with the expectation they can learn more about its mutations.

Published: January 30, 2023 7:42am

Updated: January 30, 2023 8:39am

Pfizer has denied conducting potentially dangerous experimentation known as "gain of function research" on COVID-19 in further development of the pharmaceutical company's vaccine – following a company director appearing to say as much in a sting video. 

Pfizer's Research Operations Director Jordon Trishton Walker said in a video released last week by undercover journalist group Project Veritas that his company is "exploring" mutating COVID in order to "preemptively develop new vaccines."

"COVID is going to be a cash cow for us for a while going forward," he also said in the video.

Pfizer, in response, said Friday: "In the ongoing development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research."

In gain-of-function research, scientists genetically modify a virus, with the expectation they can learn more about its mutations. However, mistakes in such research can make the virus more contagious and deadly.

The research is thought to be connected to the initial COVID outbreak in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

However, Pfizer also said in response to Walker's comments in the video it has "conducted research in which the original SARS-CoV-2 virus has been used to express the spike protein from new variants of concern." 

Such a process is similar to gain of function-of-function, according to at least one interpretation

"In a limited number of cases when a full virus does not contain any known gain of function mutations, such virus may be engineered to enable the assessment of antiviral activity in cells," the company said.

Pfizer also argues: "These studies are required by U.S. and global regulators for all antiviral products and are carried out by many companies and academic institutions in the U.S. and around the world."

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