CLAIM: Leftwing media are claiming the medications President Donald Trump was given to treat his coronavirus infection were developed using fetal tissue from aborted babies.
VERDICT: False. None of the medications Trump was given involved the destruction of human life.
The New York Times published a piece Wednesday with the headline, “The treatment that Trump touted as a ‘cure’ for Covid-19 was developed using cells derived from fetal tissue.”
Portraying Trump as a hypocrite, the Times wrote the “antibody cocktail” the president “touted on Wednesday afternoon was developed with cells originally derived from fetal tissue, a practice that his administration has moved to restrict.”
Leftwing abortion rights advocates have long continued the narrative that aborted fetal tissue is needed to help create life-saving drugs.
The Times continued:
Mr. Trump last week received Regeneron’s cocktail of monoclonal antibodies — essentially, antibodies synthesized in living cells and administered to help the body fight off the infection.
To develop the antibodies, Regeneron relied on 293T, a cell line derived from the kidney tissue of an aborted fetus in the 1970s. At least two companies racing to produce vaccines against the coronavirus, Moderna and AstraZeneca, also are using the cell line.
Remdesivir, an antiviral drug Mr. Trump received, also was tested using these cells.
“293Ts were used in testing the antibodies’ ability to neutralize the virus,” said Alexandra Bowie, a spokeswoman for Regeneron. “They weren’t used in any other way, and fetal tissue was not used in the research.”
A piece at The Cut published Thursday echoed the claims made at the Times and also insinuated Trump may not have actually had the infection caused by the coronavirus.
The Cut’s claim:
In a rambling five-minute video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, a conspicuously bronzed Trump said his COVID infection was a “gift from God” because it introduced him to the drug Regeneron. It sure sounds like no one told him that this particular treatment is developed using fetal tissue, a crucial research avenue Trump’s administration has harshly condemned, and tried to restrict as part of its war on abortion rights.
— Thread Reader App (@threadreaderapp) October 6, 2020
Nevertheless, a statement from David Prentice, Ph.D., and Tara Sander Lee, Ph.D., of the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, addresses what they refer to as “uninformed commentary … stating that President Trump has received a medication created with the use of human embryonic stem cells.”
The CLI scholars state:
CLI has reviewed the published information and our conclusion is straightforward: The president was not given any medicines to treat COVID-19 that involved the destruction of human life. No human embryonic stem cells or human fetal tissue were used to produce the treatments President Trump received–period.
Prentice and Sander Lee present “the facts”:
The Regeneron therapy given to the president was made in Velocimmune humanized mice, a novel platform that uses genetically modified mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells to generate antibodies described here and here. Development of Regeneron’s antibody cocktail is detailed in the journal Science, describing how they identified their antibodies made from Velocimmune mice and blood from recovered patients previously infected with SARS-CoV-2. The final antibody pair used in the REGN-COV2 therapy cocktail was then produced in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Results from Regeneron’s REGN-COV2 clinical trials to treat COVID-19 patients are reported here.
The CLI scholars say embryonic stem cells from mice have been key in the development of alternatives to fetal tissue:
Mouse embryonic stem cells and genetic modifications to make such mice date back to 1981, have been extensively studied, and were instrumental in the discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, another fully ethical alternative to fetal material, as discussed in this Nature review. iPSCs are much easier to use than human embryonic stem cells, more flexible in their uses, and are not ethically controversial. No one has ever advocated against using mouse embryonic stem cells for development of therapies – only against destruction of human lives.
“And finally, the anti-viral medicine remdesivir and the anti-inflammatory corticosteroid dexamethasone, also given to the president to treat COVID-19, are chemicals—no cells of any kind were used to produce these medicines,” CLI states.
“These facts reinforce this truth: ethical treatments are saving lives every day–including the president of the United States,” the CLI officials observe.
CLI also urged social media networks not to remove the erroneous information from their platforms but, instead, provide a link to CLI’s full statement making the corrections.
In June 2019, the Trump administration announced it would no longer provide taxpayer funding for research in its programs that uses human fetal tissue derived from the body parts of aborted babies.
In addition to ending research at National Institutes of Health (NIH) with fetal tissue from elective abortions, HHS said the agency will also be applying a rigorous review protocol as it considers funding for research outside of its department.
Pro-life leaders in many fields have studied the issue and agree fetal tissue is not necessary to develop clinical treatments and, in fact, has not contributed to the cure of any disease.
CLI’s Prentice said at the time the Trump administration’s announcement showed NIH is invested in research methods that have already been proven:
Adult stem cells, iPS cells, organoids, humanized mice constructed using postnatally sourced cells and improved non-human cell lines—just to name a few. All of these have been used in the production of treatments, vaccines and medicines currently on the market; the key is that our government will now invest in effective research methods that do not rely on the destruction of human life.
In August, the Trump admin’s new Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board reviewed requests made to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for fed funded fetal tissue research
The Board recommended denying most of these requests.
— Charlotte Lozier Institute (@LozierInstitute) October 8, 2020
Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Ob-Gyns, also applauded ending taxpayer funds to the abortion industry.
“The protection and care of human life by physicians and researchers must exist at all stages of life from conception to natural death,” she said, adding the Trump administration’s decision “is another clear example of the administration’s consistent protection of human life, regardless of location or age.”
“The Trump Administration has taken this important step toward stopping the barbaric practice of using the body parts of aborted babies for research,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said. “Not only is the practice unethical, it is ineffective: fetal tissue, including fetal organs like liver and thymus, have not produced a single clinical treatment.”
Similarly, pro-life leader Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said at the time the announcement was another demonstration of the Trump administration’s vision of “restoring a Culture of Life to our government.”
“We’ve known for quite a while that Planned Parenthood in particular had created a macabre subculture, trafficking in infant body parts,” she said. “Ending this practice is ethically, scientifically, and morally right, especially as we’ve learned that fetal remains are not needed for research.”