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The secret business of virus sales involving companies and traffickers

The secret business of virus sales involving companies and traffickers
(Reading time: 8 - 15 minutes)

Avian stocks sent to Italy by post. Agreements between scientists and companies. The secret investigation by the Nas and the public prosecutor's office in Rome suggests a real illegal traffic. And in the register of suspects there is an excellent name: that of Ilaria Capua, a renowned virologist and deputy. Which rejects the accusations

Inside, in a thermal package, some very special ice cubes: they contain one of the avian viruses, the epidemic that ten years ago triggered panic all over the planet. When the postman delivers it, the recipient is absent: he is the Italian manager of a large veterinary company. His wife calls him on the phone: "What should I do about it?" "Put it in the freezer right away." It seems the script of an apocalyptic film, with the disease transmitted from continent to continent bypassing all the controls. Instead it is one of the shocking episodes described in a top secret investigation by the Rome prosecutor's office on the international trafficking of viruses, exchanged by unscrupulous researchers and managers of pharmaceutical industries: all ready to accumulate money and fame thanks to the fear of epidemics. This survey reveals the background of the health emergency caused by bird flu in Italy. And it turns out that the strains of the most contagious diseases for animals and, in some cases, even for men travel from one country to another, without precautions and without authorizations. There are traffickers willing to pay tens and tens of thousands of euros just to get hold of pathogens: having them first allows you to develop vaccines by beating the competition.

Inside, in a thermal package, some very special ice cubes: they contain one of the avian viruses, the epidemic that ten years ago triggered panic all over the planet. When the postman delivers it, the recipient is absent: he is the Italian manager of a large veterinary company. His wife calls him on the phone: "What should I do about it?" "Put it in the freezer right away." It seems the script of an apocalyptic film, with the disease transmitted from continent to continent bypassing all the controls. Instead it is one of the shocking episodes described in a top secret investigation by the Rome prosecutor's office on the international trafficking of viruses, exchanged by unscrupulous researchers and managers of pharmaceutical industries: all ready to accumulate money and fame thanks to the fear of epidemics. This survey reveals the background of the health emergency caused by bird flu in Italy. And it turns out that the strains of the most contagious diseases for animals and, in some cases, even for men travel from one country to another, without precautions and without authorizations. There are traffickers willing to pay tens and tens of thousands of euros just to get hold of pathogens: having them first allows you to develop vaccines by beating the competition.

SURVEYS MADE IN USA. Virus trafficking was discovered by Homeland Security, the ministry created after the Twin Towers to nip new attacks on the United States. A high-risk activity ended in their sights: the import of viruses from Saudi Arabia to the States to process drugs, which were then re-exported to the Arab country. The president and three vice presidents of the pharmaceutical company charged with the operation were sentenced to heavy penalties. Fundamental to the investigation is the testimony of Paolo Candoli, Italian manager of Merial, the veterinary branch of the Sanofi colossus: the man negotiated immunity in exchange for the revelations on bacteriological smuggling. To the detectives he described how in April 1999 an avian stock was sent illegally to Italy via a DHL courier. This was obtained by the US veterinarian of a Saudi chicken farm, sentenced to 9 months in prison and 3 years of probation for "conspiracy in virus smuggling". After the trials were closed, in 2005 Homeland Security forwarded Candoli's minutes to the Nas carabinieri. Investigators from the first investigations realize that they are facing a nightmare scenario. In fact, the carabinieri point out, the arrival of the virus in the Candoli home coincides with the onset in Northern Italy, starting in 1999, of the largest epidemic of the H7N3 avian flu virus that developed in farms in Italy and in Europe. Already at the time the investigations conducted by the Nas of Bologna had highlighted the existence of a criminal organization dedicated to the trafficking of viruses and the clandestine production of H7 type vaccines: antidotes that at that time were administered clandestinely to the chickens of the Italian establishments.

EXCELLENT RELATIONSHIPS. The investigation of the weapon expands in a few weeks, following the interceptions ordered by the magistrates of Rome. Candoli in the capital knows how to move: he sponsors medical conferences organized by university professors, gives travel and distributes well-paid consultations and this allows him to have "preferential lanes" to the Ministry of Health to obtain authorizations, he manages to change the opinion of the advisory commission of the drug veterinarian to market Merial products. Among his closest contacts is Ilaria Capua, an internationally renowned virologist, currently a member of the Civic Choice and vice president of the Culture Commission in the Chamber. It is known for its studies on the human avian influenza virus H5N1: the magazine "Scientific American" included it among the 50 most important scientists in the world, "the Economist" two years ago included it among the most influential on the planet. Until the election to the Chamber, he was head of the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences of the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute (Izs) delle Venezie based in Padua. And with her other colleagues of the Venetian structure also ended up in the register of suspects.

The result of the Nas investigations led the Rome prosecutor, Giancarlo Capaldo, to hypothesize very serious crimes. Capua and some IZS officials have been entered in the register of suspects for criminal association aimed at corruption, abuse of office and also for illicit trafficking in viruses. Same challenge for three managers of Merial.

According to the conclusions of the carabinieri, the action of Ilaria Capua with the complicity of other officials of the institute of Padua would have helped to create a cartel between two companies, Merial and Fort Dodge Animal, excluding the other competitors, in the sale of vaccines avian influenza veterinarians. Capua's husband, Richard John William Currie, worked at Aprilia's Fort Dodge Animal, active in veterinary production. Currie is also investigated together with 38 other people. In the list there are three scientists at the top of the IZS in Padua (Igino Andrighetto, Stefano Marangon and Giovanni Cattoli); officials and general managers of the mystery of Health (Gaetana Ferri, Romano Marabelli, Virgilio Donini and Ugo Vincenzo Santucci); some members of the advisory commission of the veterinary drug (Gandolfo Barbarino, of the Piedmont Region, Alfredo Caprioli of the Higher Institute of Health, Francesco Maria Cancellotti, general manager of the zooprophylactic institute of Lazio and Tuscany, Giorgio Poli of the Veterinary faculty of the University of Milan, Santino Prosperi of the University of Bologna); also involved Rita Pasquarelli, general manager of the National Poultry Union. The facts date back to seven years ago but many of the suspects still work in the same institute.

SMUGGLERS. The most disturbing chapter is that of virus trafficking, made to enter Italy in the most diverse and illegal ways. The wiretaps of the Nas of Bologna and Rome are defined alarming: according to investigators there has been a serious risk of spreading epidemics. In addition to the parcels delivered to the home with the virus frozen in ice cubes, there were other smuggling systems. Candoli talks about it with some colleagues from the Merial of Noventa Padovana. Among the methods for importing pathogens into Italy, there was also that of hiding the test tubes between the items of clothing placed in the suitcase: in this way, they explain, "they look like the kits of the little chemist" and do not arouse suspicions in case of checks . The manager also reveals that the viruses were not illegally introduced only in Italy, but also in France for the production of vaccines in the Merial laboratories in Lyon. "In France, however, there have never been problems to import the strains," says Candoli, and adds that exotic viruses have also arrived there. Another manager of the company explains on the phone: «Listen to Paolo, we do things, much more Turkish in the sense of logistical difficulties, you know that we do the Bio Pox with Brazil so imagine if we stop in front of a problem that is practically a third of what we do with the Brazilians ».

According to Nas investigators, Capua and the Zooprophylactic Institute are also involved in illegal trafficking: the scientist would have been paid to provide pathogens. In a recorded conversation it is the virologist herself who makes explicit reference to it, claiming to have given viral strains in favor of an American veterinarian. For the carabinieri, from some interceptions “it appears evident that the smuggling of the viral strains of the avian flu, carried out by the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of the Venezie, in the persons of Ilaria Capua, Stefano Marangon and Giovanni Cattoli, with the help of the husband of the Dr. Capua, Richard William John Currie, constitutes in fact a serious and concrete danger for public health for the failure to comply with the biosafety standards ".

RIDE TO THE ANTIDOTE. Getting your hands on the pathogenic strains as quickly as possible, avoiding health bureaucracy and security measures, is essential to be the first to invent and market antidotes. In the case of the H7N3 virus, on the basis of an interception, the investigators believe that the strain was provided by Ilaria Capua. A manager of Merial talks to Candoli and tells him that it would have been bought in Padua, "I paid for it handsomely like all the other stocks we bought from that ...". For the Nas "explicitly testifies to Capua's corrupt conduct". The interlocutors often emphasize the determined ways of the scientist in economic matters. And she herself does not hide from the phone that in the past she had carried out consultations that would have yielded her a daily income oscillating between one thousand and one thousand five hundred euros. The woman says that when she went to Japan she paid four thousand euros a day, all cash, in black, so she bought the sofa and the wardrobe. «I did it because, I explain to you, a normal consultant takes a type, from one thousand to one thousand five hundred euros a day, and I have done it several times, like for my likes ...» Then she explains that she was brought in ride with the airplane and to have paid several times. Contacted by "l'Espresso", Ilaria Capua confirms that she knows Candoli, "but that she never sold viral strains. I am an employee of a public body and I do not sell anything personally ». And he explains: "The viral strains that isolate themselves in institute are his property and I have not sold anything to anyone."

Immediately after the production of the medicine, an emergency vaccination for bird flu starts in the province of Verona: the Ministry of Health authorizes Merial to supply the drugs. Investigators point out that a few months earlier, when outbreaks of a H7N1 virus appeared on chicken farms in Lombardy and Veneto, the ministry had blocked another company, because it manufactured the drug abroad and had not explained the origin of the strain. Instead no one makes stories at Merial, "despite the fact that she had produced the vaccine in laboratories in Lyon".

THE GOLDEN PATENT. La Capua and colleagues Marangon and Cattoli, working at the Izs delle Venezie, discover a system that allows to identify infected animals. It is a very important result, which becomes the reference strategy of the FAO and the European Union to counter the flu, which after birds seems to threaten humans too. They call him Diva and register his patent. The wiretapping reveals that they sign an exclusive contract to sell it to Merial and Fort Dodge. According to the reconstruction of the investigators, around Diva la Capua and its partners manage to build great deals, closing international agreements, including those with the governments of Romania and Holland. This is a controversial chapter of the investigation. For the investigators, the three scientists are public officials because they are employees of the Zooprophylactic Institute and therefore entering into a contract with Merial "appears completely undue", as "the registration of the patent appears undue", because the Diva test kit was made " as part of an institutional activity ". The contract with the two companies is considered "entirely illegal and contrary to the duties of the office": 70 percent of royalties will go, through the Zooprophylaxis of Padua, to the three officials, while only 30 will remain with the Institute. Furthermore, the stipulation of the contract between the two companies and the IZS, with the transfer of all rights on the patent, for investigators constitutes a sort of cartel that cuts out the other pharmaceutical companies. The virologist says to his lawyer: "If the patent is granted, to the other companies, excuse the vulgarity that does not suit a lady, all the more quoted by Sole24Ore, we make him an ass that never stops." Now to "L'Espresso" he explains: "We have transferred to the Institute the exploitation rights of the Diva patent and for this reason, the three inventors to date have never taken any amount of money. Royalties are negotiated by the Institute ».

The turnover that results from Diva is so strong that, as the intercepted conversations reveal, it pushes Capua's husband to devote himself full time to this new activity, which they call "The Company": the man concludes business throughout the world, deserving the nickname of "global" and would represent the link between the Venetian public structure and pharmaceutical companies. Capua in a conversation with Marangon claims that Richard told him to write that "they have the availability of an Italian N1 baculo virus, while the Asian one is" cloney "" that is, cloning and as soon as it is available they will give it to them. Marangon replies: "Okay, 50 thousand for two, let's give him the thing and good night to the bucket." It is a "business-commercial turning point": "I spoke of the affair with the Romanians to Richard, who got excited like a monkey. When he learned that the order was worth one million and 300 thousand euros, he had a half paralysis and said that now he will develop a business plan ». The avian emergency is advancing on the continents, fear passes from chicken farms to people's health. And for the "Company" the contracts multiply. Marangon seems worried, he says that caution must be used, suggesting that "there are, among other things, parallel and unofficial agreements with some figures of the Romanian health authorities". Capua also seems to be convinced of this, however it sees an expanding market «as long as there are people like Romanians». The virologist says that Romanians can be given anything: the fear of the epidemic is creating a new market where some countries like Romania, Turkey or the states of the Middle East and Africa must find systems at all costs to contain the risk of contagion. And the Padua facility headed by Capua has the best credentials: it coordinates research projects funded by the Ministry of Health, the EU and other international bodies such as the FAO.

THE PANEMY BUSINESS. One of the most disturbing chapters of the Nas investigation reconstructs the spread of the alarm about the danger of human contagion to bird flu in spring 2005. The investigators examined the official documents and the initiatives of the companies, claiming that the emergency "is it was a more media than real problem ". Behind the feared risk of an epidemic for the H5N1 virus - the carabinieri write - one could conceal a "global strategy" inspired by the multinationals that produce the drugs. In the investigative dossier they examine the role of the World Health Organization, the highest authority in the sector, which in a 2004 document recommended the stockpiling of Oseltamvir (Tamiflu) produced by Roche. After a year, articles on the incoming epidemic are beginning to be published in Italy, "inevitable and imminent". The vaccine is recommended to protect against seasonal flu and the use of antiviral drugs, including Tamiflu, against bird flu: in a short time, sales of the Roche product increased by 263 percent. Much of the alarmist information - say the carabinieri - emerged from a conference held in Malta in September 2005, sponsored by companies that manufacture flu vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Two weeks later, there is a shooting correction. The Istituto Superiore di Sanità claims that a viral strain of H5N1 “Which could trigger the next global flu pandemic shows resistance to Tamiflu”, Which many countries were beginning to accumulate. And here is the turning point, underlined by several articles: "Fortunately, the viral strain, however, was not resistant to the other antiviral on the market, Relenza by Glaxo". The carabinieri claim that the alarm was raised despite the fact that nothing was happening. Even Candoli on the phone defines the spread of news as "a form of real information terrorism" but then comments positively on the sale in just one month of one and a half million doses of the anti-flu vaccine produced by his company: "Certain industries Pharmaceuticals that make human vaccines have a peanut business, although this is no different than six months, a year or even five months ago. The only thing different is that now they are thinking about the possibility that there is a pandemic, which is not written anywhere. "


Source: https://espresso.repubblica.it/attualita/2014/04/03/news/salute-quel-business-segreto-della-vendita-dei-virus-1.159618

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