The answer, based on where new treatments are headed, would seem to be an unequivocal YES! Independent oversight of medications and treatments that can potentially affect our genetic code aren't simply essential, they are a logical extension of where the pharmaceutical industry is headed and in some cases, already arrived.
It is critical that this oversight be completely divested of any interests within the pharmaceutical industry, beyond the reach of lobbyists and political influence. Not, you’ll readily agree, an easy ask in the world we currently occupy. Two things need to occur, preferably globally, to ensure our survival as a species is not compromised by the never-ending quest for profits and industry glory. We need to create the oversight and pharma needs to be forced into legal compliance.
And these things need to happen soon!
Where does the danger lie?
Contrary to the populist nonsense circulating on social media and right-wing conspiracy websites, mRNA vaccines don’t pose a risk to our DNA. At least not yet. The current slew of mRNA vaccines is unable to engage the mechanisms required to alter our DNA. It’s a complex topic which I’ve tried to simplify in another article you can reference here if it’s of interest.
That isn’t to say, however, that all future development of mRNA technology will obey the same delivery paths or mechanisms of action, but for now, the mRNA vaccines, in their current forms, cannot interact with your DNA. You can happily get vaccinated without the risk of growing a tail.
The real danger currently lies with another branch of pharma that is going to be at the forefront of new medicines for a while to come as we rage an ongoing war against our most deadly enemy. The virus.
I am, of course referring to antivirals. drugs that are designed to deliver their payloads to and engage with our genetic machinery. While these medicines, take for instance the antivirals developed for AIDS, can be hugely effective and lifesaving, they pose a very real risk of interfering negatively with our genetic code, or DNA. Not all antivirals have this ability, but many do and many newer drugs undoubtedly will.
Not only our DNA is at risk here. Antivirals work by mutating the DNA of the virus they’re designed to attack. The risk exists that resulting mutations can create drug-resistant new strains or variants of a virus, and some experts believe insufficient data exist on drugs like Merck’s new antiviral to combat Covid, Molnupiravir, to allow the drug to be released into the market. The UK has recently approved the drug for use.
Currently, we have to accept the assurances of the pharmaceutical companies, the same companies that develop these drugs, that the treatments are, in fact, safe.
Read that sentence again. There is no world in which that statement makes logical, sane sense or fosters an environment of trust and transparency. We don’t self-police well and if you don’t understand why then drop by your local police precinct and ask them to explain it to you. We simply cannot be trusted, and when the stakes are as high as they are in the world of big pharma, even independent bodies struggle to maintain any autonomy.
What about Federal and Government bodies
Doesn’t the FDA look out for our safety, you ask? Technically, yes, however their admirable mission statements and what actually occurs in practice, are two totally different realities. Woefully understaffed departments, political pressure, pharma lobbyists, and staff, many of whom owe their training and loyalty to large pharma companies, having served as interns or former employees, overseeing clinical trials and approval processes, all contributing to potential breakdowns in safety protocols.
The recent scandal involving a whistleblower and the falsification and fabrication of results from a company engaged in submitting Covid vaccine data highlights the problem. Complaints around possible breaches in protocols designed to protect the public are often simply ignored. Lack of resources and manpower are usually assigned the blame and this instance was no exception.
Despite this, systems like the FDA still offer the public a certain level of protection and if they fail, as callous as it may sound, a worst-case scenario results in a few hundred deaths. Until now, that is. Treatments that can affect our DNA work differently. They operate silently and can take years, even decades before we are faced with the consequences. Genetic mutations may be passed on to descendants rather than affecting the patient directly.
Without wanting to sound melodramatic, the biggest challenge we will face in the coming decades will be ensuring the integrity of our human DNA. The reason is simple.
Antiviral medications work. There are very few effective mechanisms to combat viruses and antivirals are one of our best hopes to interfere with the virus’s interaction with our cells. Now, mRNA technology has also entered the fray, and will, undoubtedly stray into the world of DNA before long. It’s a sensible place to go if you’re looking to cure all that ails humanity.
While targetted DNA treatments may benefit the patient of the future, we need to ensure now that in our haste to produce profits, we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Oversight is required.
If not governments, where do we turn?
Does the World Health Organization (WHO) still hold enough credibility globally to be entrusted with a task like this? It’s a difficult question to answer. They botched the Covid response spectacularly, erring on the side of cautious statements when they could have closed the whole planet down in days, buying us time to contain the virus.
They failed to address flawed policies on aerosolized particles when presented with new evidence that contradicted 50-year-old flawed science, evidence that affected how the virus was being distributed. The list goes on, and yet, what other option are we left with?
Only the WHO is placed in a position to engage globally with all pharmaceutical companies. New treatments in development or undergoing clinical trials that target our DNA or may, in any remote fashion, risk contaminating our DNA, would require full WHO approval prior to having a license granted for taking the treatment to market.
It’s by no means a clean or perfect solution, but it would offer a starting point. A place that we could look to and say with confidence, we are doing something to ensure we don’t accidentally self-destruct as a species. A hugely embarrassing and eminently avoidable scenario, but only if we take action to avoid it.
Don’t blame the Tech
Our levels of technology are expanding exponentially, allowing us a deeper and more complex understanding of diseases and viruses on a cellular level. Nanotechnology enables us to deliver microscopic particles to cells, that even five years ago, were only pipe dreams, dreamt by molecular biologists with a vision of what the future might hold. The wonders that await us in the next decade could very well change the face of medicine forever.
Eradication of cancer and other genetic conditions are now real possibilities thanks to technologies like mRNA treatments. Antivirals may very well finally achieve the unthinkable, a world free of influenza. It’s heady times for the industry, exciting times and times for great fortunes to be made, gambled, and lost. Therein lies the biggest danger.
It is not technology, in and of itself, that poses the risk, but rather what we choose to do with it, and given our history as a species, we know we cannot leave that to chance.
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