For decades, fetal tissue from abortions has been essential in scientific research into treatments for diseases ranging from birth defects to Ebola to cancer. And fetal tissue has been especially important for studying the immune system, a key part of designing treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases like Covid-19.
The cells used by most companies now trying to find a Covid-19 treatment, called line 293T, come from the kidney tissue of an aborted fetus in the 1970s. A similar cell line, Per.C6, was obtained in 1985 from retinal cells of an 18 week old aborted fetus.
The treatment Mr. Trump has called a cure for Covid-19 is a cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies made by Regeneron. These antibodies are synthesized outside the body and then infused into patients to help fight infection.
Regeneron tested for antibodies against virus-like particles created using human 293T cells. The viral particles serve as a proxy for the living coronavirus; otherwise, testing would require a laboratory with extremely high levels of biosafety. (Eli Lilly, who also makes monoclonal antibodies, uses the same method.)
“The 293Ts were used to test the ability of antibodies to neutralize the virus,” said Alexandra Bowie, spokesperson for Regeneron. “They have not been used in any other way and the fetal tissue has not been used in research.”
Mr Trump’s categorical endorsement of Regeneron may run counter to some religious groups and conservative leaders who have questioned the use of cells to find treatments or vaccines to use against the coronavirus.
“A concern regarding the ethical review of viral vaccine candidates is the potential use of cell lines derived from abortion in development, production or testing,” wrote David Prentice, vice president of the Institute in September. Charlotte Lozier.