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Comments on the proposed SAGO committee and proposed changes. Official SAGO notice:
October 26, 2021
Dear Dr. Tedros,
As scientists and science communicators who have signed one or more of four open
letters on pandemic origins, dated March 4,April 7,April 30, and June 28,2021,
respectively, we support your statements recognizing the limitations of the joint study
mission which performed some initial and partial studies on Covid-19 pandemic origins.
We also strongly approve of your call for access to raw data in China and for a proper
audit of the relevant Wuhan laboratories and sampling trips, which the initial joint
study mission did not have the mandate, access, or required skill set to accomplish. Only
such an approach - which goes beyond the standard epidemiological tracing more apt to
a purely natural origin - will allow for the most credible scientific investigation into all
plausible hypotheses.
For these reasons, we welcome the establishment of the new WHO Scientific Advisory
Group on Pandemic Origins (SAGO) as a positive step forward. If designed properly,
SAGO has the significant potential to make present and future investigations far more
transparent, effective, accountable, and legitimate.
The full potential of this effort will only be realized, however, if SAGO has the mandate,
the access, and, above all, the necessary team to realize its ambitions. For this reason,
we are concerned that the proposed list of 26 nominees to SAGO, announced on 13
October, lacks the diversity of skills and the scientific impartiality necessary for its
Specifically, we note that there are far too few nominees with backgrounds in biosafety,
biosecurity, or forensics (we counted only two out of 26) -- skills that are critical for
realizing SAGO’s mission. At best this imbalance will strongly hamper SAGO’s ability to
accomplish its task. At worst this will fundamentally harm SAGO’s credibility, and the
credibility of the WHO by extension. To function optimally, SAGO will require a team
able to fairly and credibly examine all pandemic origin hypotheses, both now and in the
The group also includes a number of people who are on public record dismissing a
possible research-related origin of the current pandemic in often extreme terms and
Feedback on SAGO composition p. 1/5
using language indicating a lack of openness to all credible hypotheses. Some nominees
also seem to have conflicts of interests which have the potential to sap the credibility of
SAGO. By conflict of interest, we mean here individuals whose funding and research
activities could be significantly curtailed if the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak was found
to be research-related.
While we recognize that a wholesale revision of the SAGO nominee list is neither
feasible nor desirable, these insufficiencies can largely be addressed with a few key
changes. We therefore call on you to remove three specific nominees from the final
SAGO team and to add at least three additional experts with a background in biosafety,
biosecurity or forensics.
We believe these changes will greatly enhance the legitimacy and credibility of the SAGO
To this end, we urge you to retract the nomination of the following three SAGO
nominees, who have proven to be critically conflicted and/or overly biased:
Marion Koopmans was part of the WHO-China team and has on many
occasions called a research related accident a ‘debunked theory’ not worth
considering. She has many times shown minimal interest in asking for primary
data or supporting any form of audit work, stating that she doubts that this would
add anything. Her attitude to a proper forensic investigation is that it is not her
responsibility to go and ask the right questions and gather the information. Dr.
Koopmans collaborates regularly and has long worked in the same lab as Ron
Fouchier, whose experiments on H5N1 were a prime stimulus for a vigorous
debate on gain-of-function, including a voluntary 60 day moratorium in 2012,
and a longer, mandatory one from 2014-2017. Dr Koopman’s department also
has strong links to EcoHealth Alliance which has been very actively involved with
the research in Wuhan. If the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak is found to be
research-related, her funding and research activities would be significantly
Kathrin Summermatter is one of the only two SAGO nominees with biosafety
expertise. However, she has very publicly expressed her opinion that the
possibility that SARS-CoV-2 entered humans through research-related spillover
is a "conspiracy theory" that should be dismissed. Summermatter has also
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asserted that the possibility a virus could enter humans through a
research-related spillover and then spread beyond laboratory workers is "hardly
possible", which is demonstrably false (for example the Beijing-Anhui SARS
outbreak of April 2004). We find her comment curiously naive for a biosafety
expert, given the decades-long history of laboratory accidents involving pathogen
release. Summermatter has also stated that biosafety standards for pathogen
research in China have been "very high" and "very strict", contradicting the
assessments of Chinese biosafety experts including Yuan Zhiming of the Wuhan
Institute of Virology (Oct. 2019 and Jan. 2016) or Yang Zhanqiu of Wuhan
University (Feb. 2020), as well as the assessment of the Feb. 2020 ‘Notice on
Strengthening the Biosafety of Laboratories’. Finally, Summermatter has called
for relaxing, not strengthening, biosafety standards for pathogen research.
Supaporn Wacharaplusadee is a subcontractor on National Institutes of
Health (NIH) grant U01-AI151787, under which her university (Chulalongkorn
University) is to receive $215,944 USD per year in 2020-2025, for a total of $1.08
million USD. More generally, most of the key research of Dr. Wacharaplusadee
over the last 10 years has been conducted in close association with Peter Daszak
and other members of EcoHealth Alliance. Being dependent on the EcoHealth
Alliance for its funding, and as a very close associate of EcoHealth Alliance for its
research, Dr. Wacharaplusadee has a deep and obvious conflict of interest in an
investigation that has to impartially consider elements of research in Wuhan
involving her main donor and research partner. In these circumstances, her
retention could well be seen as prejudicial to the mission of SAGO.
Because the list of SAGO nominees in its current form does not sufficiently include
individuals with the essential and necessary biosafety, biosecurity, and forensics skills,
we also call on you to nominate at least three additional experts with these skills.
We believe the following experts, whom we know to have applied for SAGO, would be
Filippa Lentzos (Norway) has deep subject-matter expertise on safety
protections for work with pathogens and on protections against accidental or
deliberate releases of pathogens. She has published widely on issues related to
transparency, confidence-building, and compliance assessment of biodefence
programs and high-risk bioscience. In 2020 she co-authored a "Guide to
Feedback on SAGO composition p. 3/5
Investigating Outbreak Origins: Nature versus the Laboratory". Filippa is a
Senior Lecturer in Science and International Security at King’s College London
and serves as the NGO Coordinator for the Biological Weapons Convention. She
is also an Associate Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute (SIPRI) and regularly consults for the United Nations and the
World Health Organization.
Mayra Belén Ameneiros (Argentina) has a MSc in biochemistry and is a
biorisk management and biosecurity expert. Mayra is a consultant and professor
on biosafety and biosecurity. She has a postgraduate degree on International
Security, Disarmament and Non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Mayra is currently doing an Innovation Fellowship at PandemicTech, where she
works in different biosafety and biosecurity projects dedicated to fighting
pandemics. She has over a decade of experience in scientific research. She is a
member of various national and international organizations on issues of
Biosafety, Biorisk, Biosecurity and Global Health Security, as the Global Health
Security Agenda, iGEM Foundation, the International Working Group on
Strengthening the Culture of Biosafety & Biosecurity, among others. Mayra
served as a Mentor of the IFBA Global Mentorship Program 2020/2021, and in
2021 she was elected as Argentina Coordinator and as a Member of the
Mentorship Council for the Next Generation Global Health Security Network.
Rocco Casagrande (USA) is a biochemist and the Managing Director of
Gryphon Scientific, a research and consulting practice that uses rigorous
scientific analyses to address problems of global health and security. Dr.
Casagrande has spent his career combining deep scientific expertise with novel
methodologies, with the aim of transforming biosafety from art to science. He is a
widely respected thought leader on managing the safety and security risks of
cutting-edge biological research,and has analyzed avenues for the possible
misuse of advanced biotechnology and also recommended means to reduce this
risk without hampering scientific or industrial progress.
Please note that we do not have access to the full list of applicants. It is likely that more
leading experts in biosafety, biosecurity, and the forensic investigation of laboratory
accidents, who do not have disqualifying conflicts of interest, can be found in the
existing applicant pool.
Feedback on SAGO composition p. 4/5
As strong believers in and supporters of the WHO and its mission, we urge you to take
these essential steps which can help establish a significantly stronger foundation for
SAGO’s critically important work.
Colin D. Butler, Honorary Professor, National Centre for Epidemiology and
Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Alina Chan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Cambridge, MA, USA
Jean-Michel Claverie, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Aix-Marseille University,
Fabien Colombo, PhD Candidate, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, France
Virginie Courtier, Senior Researcher, Université de Paris, Institut Jacques
Monod, Paris, France
Gilles Demaneuf, Engineer and Data Scientist, New Zealand
Elisa Harris, Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center, USA
Jonathan Latham, Bioscience Resource Project, USA
Milton Leitenberg, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, USA
Jamie Metzl, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council, USA
Steven Quay, Physician-Scientist, Seattle, WA, USA
Günter Theißen, Professor of Genetics, FSU Jena, Germany
Roland Wiesendanger, Professor, University of Hamburg, Germany
Feedback on SAGO composition p. 5/5
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Engineer and Data Scientist
  • Gilles Demaneuf
• Gilles Demaneuf, Engineer and Data Scientist, New Zealand • Elisa Harris, Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center, USA