Biotech COVID-19 University Affairs

The secret COVID-19 cure of Pasteur Lille

There is a miracle drug for COVID-19, but it is secret. Enterprising researchers at Institute Pasteur in Lille ask for €5 million.

Version française ici

While US president Donald Trump struggles for breath and battles his COVID-19 with all possible drugs except for some reason hydroxychloroquine, the French already have developed another cure for the coronavirus. They issued yet another press release.

What the “miracle molecule” might be, is secret, but you can pay the Institut Pasteur in Lille €5 million for access to further information.

Here a French journalist with his breaking news of 29 September 2020:

The RTL article touting the mysterious “miracle molecule” went like this:

“Finally a hope? The Institut Pasteur de Lille may have found the miracle molecule in the laboratory to obtain an effective treatment against Covid-19 by 2021. The treatment already exists in several European countries for other uses.

Tested among thousands of other molecules, this drug has proven its worth against the coronavirus , with little or no side effects, making it possible to limit contagion, confirms one of the members of the Lille research team, also director of a company specializing in drug repurposing. “We used this product which is not totally available. The active principle happens to concentrate in the airways, the lungs, where the virus is  at the beginning of the disease ,” he explains, assuring that this product caused very few side effects.

Some hundreds of positive patients will be able to participate in a  clinical trial before placing on the market. Despite requests, the Institut Pasteur de Lille teams remain discreet about the identity of this miracle product . “We want to keep the name of the drug a secret in order to be able to avoid the parallel market, prescriptions without control and control of stocks,” says the researcher.

Not just the “miracle product”, but even the names of its inventors are secret. Other newspapers have been more revealing. FranceInfo names the mysterious biotech startup and its director:

“It would be a drug to be taken as soon as possible to on the one hand reduce the period of contagion of infected patients and on the other hand prevent these patients from developing more serious symptoms,” explains Terence Beghyn, researcher and founder of the biotechnology company Apteeus. This company made its collection of 2,000 molecules available to the Institut Pasteur, created from already existing drugs.

The next step for these researchers: find 5 million euros in funds to begin clinical trials on patients infected with Covid-19. They hope for commercialization in 2021. “

As you see, the price to be told the name of miracle drug, is to invest €5 million in Apteeus, a small drug repurposing startup located inside the pharmacology department of Pasteur Institut Lille and owned by the institute’s scientific director Benoît Deprez and his postdoc Terence Beghyn. If I were Trump I would pay them double and triple.

Days after, Pasteur Lille director general Xavier Nassif gave an interview to France24, which appeared in English on 1 October. Nassif also did not name the miracle molecule, but said:

First, we’re going to try to demonstrate the drug’s efficacy in vivo using a macaque monkey as a test subject. If successful, we will of course publish the results. We’re impatient to start animal trials. If all goes well, they should begin in November. Afterwards, we hope to begin human trials this winter, once we have the necessary authorisations“.

Now this is interesting. Give us €5mn, and we will publish the results, eventually, but only if they are still positive. If not, nobody will ever see any data or will ever know what the miracle molecule was. Nassif also mentioned that the drug can be “administered enterally”, but didn’t say from which end of the digestive tract. He added:

Clinical trials are expensive. We hope that the communication surrounding our discovery will help us to raise funds from both public and/or private donors. Right now, what we need is money.

Prior to all that, Deprez himself was interviewed by a French newspaper, La Voix du Nord. Funnily, in the article from 25 September the journalists forgot to mention who owns that company Apteeus, or maybe they just saw it as irrelevant, given that the COVID-19 victory is nigh. The Pasteur Lille scientific director is quoted:

Taken at the first symptoms of the disease, this drug reduces the viral load of the carrier of the disease, prevents contagion. Taken later, it thwarts its severe forms. Its action is that of an anti-viral and not that of an anti-inflammatory.

Ah, so it stops the virus replicating in the dish, like chloroquine. And like all those many other drugs reported and named in journals and preprints, but with some data shown or at least fabricated. But Deprez is shy: “We cannot give its name. Stocks are limited and we need reserves for the clinical trial. We also want to avoid any frenzy“. But here some clues:

“To understand: the drug targeted by the researchers at Pasteur Lille, is produced by “a small European laboratory“, it exists for other uses. “We have proven that its active principle can kill the virus at a concentration thirty times lower than that which is basically proposed … ” Few or no side effects, no drug interaction to fear and really simple to take, affirms Benoît Deprez. “No needle injection, no need for help from nursing staff.

Nothing else, just reiteration that you must pay €5 million to know the name of the miracle molecule.

A lively debate ensued on Twitter among the French users. Some were perfectly content with the press releases and secrecy, because after all, it is none of anyone business if there is any data at all, and we must trust Professor Deprez, just give him the money. Others were unconvinced why Deprez did not just publish his in vitro results or at least submitted a proper grant proposal, like all his peers do. Why are Deprez secret results better than those of others, which are at least visible?

Philippe Froguel, professor at Lille University and, like Deprez, member of Institut Pasteur Lille Strategic Committee, defended his colleague and explained to me on Twitter that “The press action was done to get funding for the necessary clinical study“.

My personal suspicion is that Deprez already tried to get his miracle molecule funded the normal way, but was told by peer reviewers to stuff it and is now trying this unorthodox public route. Either some private investors will arrive with cash, or the French public will storm President Emmanuel Macron’s office demanding he gives all the money to Deprez’s company to save France and the world. Either way, it will be payday for the Pasteur Lille researcher.

Deprez is a secretive man. He even patented some “novel compounds” to treat tuberculosis without stating what those are. It is very likely he already submitted such a “novel compounds” patent to treat COVID-19. The approach is bizarre, and may even work out as a business strategy, but does it make sense scientifically?

Not to me. The argument of avoiding a run on the pharmacies is a silly one. Despite much touting as a COVID-19 miracle cure, ivermectin, artemisinin and even famotidine (which Trump currently takes) stocks are not depleted. Chloroquine got depleted only because some national governments imposed strategic reserve hoarding themselves. Scientific literature is flooded with all possible ideas for repurposed drugs against COVID-19, all much more convincing than Deprez’ press releases simply because those peer reviewed papers and preprints at least show some research data. And yet no pharmacy was raided for any of those so far.

In this regard, on which grounds are we to assume the “magic molecule” of Lille does anything at all, even in cell culture, as the Pasteur Lille scientists claim? Where is the data for that? Kind of reminiscent of the at the time unpublished but much promoted coronavirus results of artemisia infusions by Deprez’ German counterpart, the Max-Planck-Institute director Peter Seeberger and his own company ArtemiFlow. In fact, for this very artemisinin research Seeberger collaborated with Deprez’ COVID-19 task force at Pasteur Lille, who provided the VeroE8 lung cells (see acknowledgement in Gilmore et al bioRxiv 2020). Heck, maybe Deprez’ miracle molecule is artemisinin from Seeberger’s tea? Who cares.

Molecular biologist and social activist Alexander Samuel gathered interesting information about the business activities of Institut Pasteur Lille and its spin-off Apteus. The following text is based on his own investigation and writing, with my own input and editing.

Original photo: Tweet by F. Vidal.

Samuel noticed a strange corporate structure around Institut Pasteur Lille which was created in March during the COVID19 outbreak: a real taskforce dedicated to saving the world faster than others, which includes members from the INSERM U1177 unit (the Deprez Lab), and especially those who are also members of APTEEUS start-up company: Benoît Deprez, his postdoc or assistant professor Terence Beghyn, as ell as Deprez’ PhD students Loïc Belloy, Betty Dubois and Camille Moreau. But the main heroes of the team are Pasteur Lille researchers Jean Dubuisson and Sandrine Belouzard (mentioned above as collaborators of Seeberger).

Institut Pasteur Lille sounds like a public research institute to French people, but it’s actually not. It’s supposed to be a private foundation. Its income is made up with a lot of public money though, in 2019 salaries were paid that way (€31,5 Million), while direct research funding from the state is as high (€10,7 Million) as private donations (10,6 Million €). Another third of the research funding (€8,1 Million) comes from selling services and renting workforce, with publicly funded equipment and salaries. 

On April 16th, 2020, the Institut Pasteur Lille team were present in a documentary from the French M6 TV channel, stating that chloroquine did not work (i.e., that it works only at too high doses in vitro to be effective in a real life) and that they would find 5 to 25 good drug candidates in the coming days. On April 24th, they announced that they had to fundraise €10,000 to buy molecules and to test them. Beghyn was quoted:

“If we find a molecule whose use profile is not too risky, we suggest to the doctor who follows the patient to test it, it is a ‘compassionate use’, when no other solution ‘has been found“.

Once enough funding was collected, the Lille researchers promised to test 2000 molecules in one week, and said the results will be published really soon. There was a public call for online fundraiser, on 5 October the donations stood at €3151 out of €10k. There is also a direct way to fund this task force, in partnership with the Rotary Club District 1520, directly through an official site of the Institut Pasteur Lille. Also in this document, it is interesting to note that molecules are planned to be for “compassionate use”, which is a popular practice among the certain kind of enterprising researchers to bypass proper clinical trials, preclinical tests and external ethics votes or approvals (see especially airway transplants). Another advantage of the compassionate use is that only positive enough cases can be selected for press releases and peer reviewed publications, while those inconvenient outcomes can be either omitted or creatively re-interpreted. Also for COVID-19, some biotech businesses take the easy route of compassionate use to get “results” (for example, with stem cells here). There is a serious danger that Lille researchers will start treating patients with their magical molecule on compassionate use base, as they in fact already openly admitted it (see above). In Austria, Deprez’ academic peer at IMBA Vienna Josef Penninger, owner of the biotech startup Apeiron, did just that, despite having announced clinical trials.

In most if not in all media reports, Apteeus is presented as an external company which, aside of being a collaborator, has nothing to do with Institut Pasteur Lille. The news coverage never mentions that both Apteeus leaders are actually the institute’s own researchers Deprez and Beghyn, from the publicly funded Deprez lab INSERM U1177 at Institut Pasteur Lille.

On May 28th, Frédérique Vidal, French minister of research (and gel band duplication) even arrived to pay that team a visit:

On June 20th, the French-German public television channel Arte aired a documentary about the Pasteur Lille team.  In this documentary, the researchers stated that they would have a treatment ready by the end of June, and in the last minutes, Deprez makes a whole show about privacy and hiding his research because America might try to steal his precious work. Of note, there are some webcam conferences shown including Apteeus team and logos: Benoît Deprez, Terence Beghyn and Camille Moreau, but with members of Deprez Lab at the Institut Pasteur too: Cyril Couturier, Xie Xiao, Guillaume Valentin, Nathalie Dekeyne, Imen Khata and Florence Leroux. Other names appear like Eik Hoffmann, Sandrine Belouzard, Thibaut Vausselin, Xavier Hanoulle, Arnaud Machelard and Lucie Bier. Most of them are volunteering for the task force (for Apteeus’ benefit?).

On September 23rd, after claiming every single week on different media that they had discovered good candidates (but never publishing any results), the Lille researchers started asking for money again, claiming they have found a miracle molecule but keeping it secret to avoid everyone rushing to buy their molecule. Likely in reference to how worried the Chloroquine genius Didier Raoult was about pharmacies being raided by panicky hordes wanting the cheap miracle cure he had discovered. The secret miracle molecule of Lille needs money to get tested in clinic, so they are now asking for €5 Million funding, but from whom? 

The pretence to avoid panic while aggressively marketing a secret miracle drug in the media, might actually serve the purpose to cause panic among French citizens, who would then exert pressure on the government to give Deprez and his Apteeus all the money they want. Political connections are very important in France, this is where research money comes from. While the Lille scientists are keen to distance themselves from Raoult and his chloroquine-peddling IHU institute in Marseille, they both seem to rely on funding networks tracing to the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

For example, Rebecca Deprez-Poulain, who is most obviously not just the former student but also the wife of the Pasteur Lille scientific director and APTEEUS owner Benoit Deprez, got her “CAPSTONE” research project recently funded with almost €4 million by the EU Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. Now, Madame Deprez is, just like Pasteur Lille directro general Nassif, also a member of the Alliance for Life Sciences and Health (Aviesan), which is an influential structure created under Sarkozy by his minister Xavier Bertrand. Aviesan used to be directed by the INSERM director André Syrota and aimed to attract industrial investment to public research, especially Sanofi-Aventis in which Nicolas Sarkozy and his political party invested a lot. Syrota also strongly supported Didier Raoult to help him obtain public funding for the creation of IHU in 2011. Presently, Aviesan’s Vice-president is none other but the disgraced former CNRS chief biologist and Jeanne d’Arc of research integrity, Catherine Jessus.

Did this same network play out when the head of the Région Hauts-de-France, and former Sarkozy cabinet member, Xavier Bertrand, decided to fund with public money this super secret molecule on October 1st

The whole media farce from Lille is just a way to cash in big time. There is a good reason why Deprez et al show no data and even keep the name of their magic molecule secret. The grand plan would not work otherwise.

Update 10.10.2020

The money has arrived, as La Voix du Nord reported today. After €785,000 from Region Haut de France, courtesy of Xavier Bertrand, the luxury goods business LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) now donated the desired €5 million to Pasteur Lille. Its president and majority shareholder, the billionaire and world’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, was quoted:

Faced with the global pandemic, the scientific discovery of researchers at the Institut Pasteur de Lille raises enormous hope for a cure. It is vital that this research can continue and it is for this purpose that I have decided to provide support for this crucial phase of clinical trials. I am proud that this discovery was made by teams from my region of origin, and sincerely hope that their work will be completed as soon as possible.

Arnault is 71, and thus COVID-19 risk group. €5 million is small change for world’s richest man, but now he bought the miracle cure for the virus.

Meanwhile, Pasteur Lille board member Philippe Froguel indicated that primate tests have been approved:

Update 13.10.2020

The miracle molecule is secret no more, its identity was leaked to French journalists of AEF. Turned out, it’s the rectally applied antibiotic Clofoctol which was sold in France as Octofen from 1978 to 2005 to treat respiratory infections, and withdrawn for lack of efficiency. Deprez’ worry to avoid “hysteria” is misplaced because the antibiotic is not available in French pharmacies anyway. Pasteur Lille researchers however neither deny nor confirm the leaked information about clofoctol, and keep their buttocks firmly clenched.


Donate!

If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Much cheaper than what Deprez asks, and I name all magic molecules!

5.00 €

1 comment on “The secret COVID-19 cure of Pasteur Lille

  1. From what I know about one of the companies mentioned above, a lot of personal ambitions
    and always the will to spend as little as possible (many trainees) and much is asked of them…

    Like

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