Is REGN-COV2 Developed Using Cell Line From Aborted Fetus? Catholic Ethicists Split on the Use of Attenuated Fetal Tissue

Is REGN-COV2 Developed Using Cell Line From Aborted Fetus? Catholic Ethicists Split on the Use of Attenuated Fetal Tissue

Sometime before 1973, a woman in Holland had an abortion. Her fetus, a female, was donated for scientific use. A cell from the fetus’s kidney has “lived” ever since, with a cell line grown from it used widely in medical research and the production of biologics such as viruses. The cell was infused (technically speaking, transfected) with DNA from an adenovirus by Alex van der Eb and Frank Graham in the Netherlands back in 1973, creating HEK 293 (human embryonic kidney cell; this was Graham’s 293rd experiment). 293T, the version now used, was developed by Michele Calos at Stanford University, this time by combining HEK 293 with a plasmid that encodes a mutant of the SV40 large T antigen. As reported by Catholic News on October 9, the medical establishment has deemed that with the Stanford modification, this cell line should not be considered “fetal tissue” due to its attenuated relationship with the original fetal cell.

REGN-COV2, the antibody cocktail often known by the manufacturer’s name Regeneron, is still in clinical studies. But President Trump (POTUS), who is now pro-life politically, received this medication off-label in his well-publicized bout
with COVID-19. Now some wonder at the ethical implications, as REGN-COV2 was developed with the help of 293T. According to Dr. Paul Carson, who is the director of the Center for Immunization Research and Education at North Dakota State University and also a member of the Catholic Medical Association, preliminary evidence shows that if given early on in COVID-19, REGN-COV2 can mimic an immune reaction and help folks fight the disease. This April, four committees of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other anti-abortion groups sent FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn a letter of concern about “dozens of vaccines… some of which are being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies.”

Regeneron: Therapy Doesn’t Include Fetal Tissue

In the meantime, Trump’s administration is moving to cut off federal funds for research that “relies on fetal tissue from elective abortions.” DHHS and NIH have put together an ethics advisory board to “screen proposals seeking federal dollars.” The Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board voted on July 31 to reject 13 of 14 proposals that required fetal tissue. Regeneron’s communications director Alexandra Bowie says that “fetal tissue was not used” in
the research for REGN-COV2. “We did not use human stem cells or human embryonic cells in the development of REGN-COV2,” she added. Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, who is the director of education and an ethicist at the National
Catholic Bioethics Center, concurred with Regeneron as to REGN-COV2 itself, saying the drug is produced in hamster cells, “not cells derived from human abortions.”

Use of 293T Raises Concern

But the Father does have a concern with the use of 293T in testing Regeneron’s drug. The use of an assessment tool that requires 293T allows researchers to figure out which antibodies will work best on COVID-19. “It is unfortunate that
these testing tools, which were developed by non-Regeneron researchers, rely on fetal cell lines from abortions,” Father Pacholczyk opined. “This fact serves to remind us how the abortion mindset has infiltrated all sectors of our society,
including many sectors of pharmaceutical research and development. The church has long been protesting this fact, and encouraging the use of alternatives.” Dr. Carson of North Dakota State University notes, “There’s concerns around the original science–But for the person who might be receiving this, the product they receive is no way produced from the use of fetal cells. This is so far removed from that portion of the unethical act that I think that it is permissible.”