On Friday, White House physician Sean Conley announced President Trump had begun yet another experimental course of treatment for covid-19 with REGN-COV2, an antibody “cocktail” that has been used in trials with fewer than 1,000 patients and have not received emergency use authorization from the FDA.
It should come as no surprise then that Trump golfs with the company’s CEO and as recently as 2017 held Regeneron stock. But it also appears that the president, a person who just cannot stop tweeting about his anti-abortion agenda in the twilight stretch of the presidential race, is taking a drug that was developed through research that used a common cell cultured decades ago from an aborted fetus, by a company that embraces stem cell research—both practices considered at odds with the anti-abortion agenda, and one of which has been broadly rejected by Trump’s federal advisory committee on taxpayer-funded research.
How interesting that supposedly ironclad convictions can disappear in a moment of mortal crisis.
Last year, the Trump administration halted research using fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions, a regulation that has stymied work on coronavirus vaccines and therapies. In one notable instance this March, a senior immunologist at the National Institutes of Health was prevented from researching the virus after appealing to the administration several times. In August, an administration task force stocked with opponents of human fetal tissue research rejected 14 out of 15 research proposals. Scientists and state attorneys general have appealed to the administration to reverse this ban, arguing that working with fetal tissue—the “gold standard” for many studies—would more quickly and effectively allow coronavirus research to advance.
So far, the administration has not budged on its rules around the use of fetal tissue, and while anti-abortion legislators have urged the president to similarly discontinue the use of embryonic stem cell research, under the pretense that an embryo is basically a fetus, that research venue remains intact. Regeneron’s public position is that it uses a “wide variety of research tools,” including stem cells, to develop its products, which it has noted “adheres to federal and state laws and regulations.”
But it also, according to supplementary material released by researchers in Science, “briefly” used a derivative of a common cell line called HEK 293 in the development of the therapy that would eventually be administered to Trump—cells originally cultured from an aborted fetus in the ‘70s in the Netherlands. HEK 293 has been used widely for decades in research and industry and enjoys the occasional controversy when, for instance, the Christian media discovers it might have been used in the development of a candy bar or diet soda. Most recently, it has become a focal point for pro-life opposition to some coronavirus vaccines.
As of Monday, the president continued to receive intravenous Remdisivir, the steroid Dexamethasone, and at least six other medicines and supplements, according to his doctors. He has not yet tried hydroxychloroquine, the immunosuppressant he touted as a “game changer” before ordering 66 million doses in June.