New Delhi: US President Donald Trump was given an array of drugs to treat his Covid-19 symptoms. These included remdesivir, steroid dexamethasone, and an experimental cocktail of antibodies by biotech major Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.
While remdesivir and dexamethasone have been known to be used for mild and severe cases of Covid, the eight grams of experimental cocktail Trump was given generated controversy — partly because it is still under trial, but also because it uses a method of research that has stirred Trump’s voter base in the past: embryonic stem cell research.
In a statement on the research in April, the company said: “Regeneron uses a wide variety of research tools and technologies to help discover and develop new therapeutics. Stem cells are one such tool.” It added that there are “limited research efforts employing…human embryonic stem cells.”
Trump has repeatedly identified himself as pro-life, a belief that nothing should harm life once it has been conceived. This is in line with the conservatives, who are often anti-abortion because of their Christian beliefs and make up a chunk of the Republican vote. In 2019, Trump even clamped down on the use of foetal tissue in scientific research.
In March this year, the Washington Post reported that a scientist was forced to abandon his research into a coronavirus treatment because of Trump’s foetal tissue laws.
‘The beginnings of life and the ends of science’
Embryonic stem cell research involves using cells at the embryo stage, when the human egg has been fertilised by sperm. The fertilised egg is referred to as an embryo till the 9th week, after which it is called a foetus.
Embryonic stem cells are sought after in scientific research because they can develop into all cell types of the body. While embryonic cells from abortions are commonly used, Regeneron clarified that it uses embryos that have been “created solely through in vitro fertilization”.
In 2001, the George Bush administration restricted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Bush, a conservative and Christian, said at the time, “At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science.”
This was changed only after Barack Obama came to power in 2008.
A cocktail of controversy
After Trump took the Oval Office in 2016, a ban or restriction on the use of embryonic and foetal tissue research was always on the cards. In 2019, the government officially imposed restrictions on the federal funding of research requiring foetal tissue.
According to the new rules, scientists must detail why exactly they require fetal tissue and how it will be obtained.
In its statement, Regeneron said it uses embryonic cells that are “approved for research use by the National Institutes of Health” and “adheres to federal and state laws and regulations”.
The cocktail given to Trump includes a mix of two potent antibodies directed against a spike protein found on the novel coronavirus’ surface. The therapy is still under trial. Regeneron released preliminary results last month saying it was safe, reduces viral load, and eases symptoms.
While recovering this week, Trump put out a spate of Tweets about the therapy. One of them said, “PRO LIFE! VOTE!”.
PRO LIFE! VOTE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 5, 2020
But Twitter users were quick to point out the hypocrisy.
Trump got better from covid19 using medicine derived from the stem cells of discarded embryos. pic.twitter.com/hmo9HqQieK
— AriLoki (@arilochi) October 5, 2020
The medicine Trump used is made of embryonic stem cells, so I'm not sure if you can support him if you're "pro-life". pic.twitter.com/lzuZ49i6N4
— 🌹 Senchi 🌹 (@senchi3_) October 5, 2020