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Hunter Biden-Affiliated Metabiota and Its Non-Existent Failure on Ebola
Metabiota is a San Francisco-based health startup known for tracking epidemics. It's currently gotten some attention because it received funding, $500,000, from Hunter Biden's investment firm, Rosemont Seneca, and has been involved in running biolabs in Ukraine.
During the recent Ukraine conflict, Russia highlighted the presence of U.S.-funded biolabs in the country, similar to the one in Wuhan, China linked to the COVID-19 outbreak, and also claimed that Hunter Biden was helping to fund these labs to develop “bioweapons.” Metabiota also received over $18 million from the Department of Defense between 2014 and 2016.
Prior to this, Metabiota was largely unknown except for a dispute during the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016. A story in the Associated Press (AP) titled “American company bungled Ebola response” accused Metabiota of improper medical procedures while testing potential Ebola patients—misdiagnosis, tainted samples, and total confusion—based on emails from representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO). A representative for the president of Sierra Leone went so far as to describe their affect as having “messed up the entire region.”
But a 2016 analysis by the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium (VHFC) found that parallel testing done by Metabiota and the Kenema Government Hospital (KGH)—the largest public health facility in the Eastern province of Sierra Leone—showed little difference in results.
Out of 800 tests, there were only 4 discrepancies between Metabiota results and KGH results. According to the report , “in all four discordant cases, the sample tested positive by Metabiota and negative by the KGH Laboratory.”
While the Metabiota results for those four cases might have been false positives, it notes that that could be useful for better sensitivity. For highly dangerous and contagious diseases, false positives are better than false negatives. Ebola's death rate is around 50 percent but can range as high as 90 percent.
According to an email from Austin Demby, a representative from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there were discrepancies between Metabiota results and those performed by a group from Tulane University, but upon retesting the discrepancies would disappear, showing Metabiota’s first round results to be accurate.
What was of higher concern in the VHFC report was that Metabiota was attempting to culture peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from Ebola patients, sometimes used to detect early onset of diseases like Ebola.
“If it is true that Metabiota is culturing PBMC from confirmed EVD patients, we propose this be stopped immediately, given the high biosafety concerns surrounding the culture of live EBOV, as well as the issues with false positives that potential laboratory aerosols may generate.”
The AP article details different concerns, about lab blunders and faulty predictions and one technician who accidentally infected themselves with a virus. But the article also dismisses most of those concerns with responses from Metabiota's CEO, that error rates were well within range and squabbles were overblown.
The Metabiota technician who infected themselves with a different disease did so over 20 years beforehand and is currently well qualified for his job. According to the AP version, “Metabiota doesn’t specialize in outbreak response, but volunteered its staff and resources to Sierra Leone at a cost to his company of about $500,000.”
A version of the story published on the Washington Post is no longer available online.