Written by Raul Diego
Dr. Michael Callahan was given a leave of absence from his senior executive role at United Therapeutics (UTHR) in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China; sent there to assist colleagues handling mass infections of the novel coronavirus under his joint appointment at a Chinese sister hospital of the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, where he has maintained a faculty appointment since 2005.
Soon, Callahan would be pouring through thousands of case studies emerging from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, examining patients in Singapore and briefing U.S. officials on the location of the next likely outbreak, according to NatGeo. The doctor marveled at the “magnificent infectivity” of the disease, which sits “like a little silent smart bomb in your community”.
The doctor’s strange fascination with viral infections and morbid titillation might well be attributed to the fact that he has dedicated his life to studying these microscopic killers. “Triple boarded” in internal medicine, infectious diseases and tropical medicine, Callahan, nevertheless also has a strong entrepreneurial streak, that drove him to launch no less than 11 companies and develop 8 patents.
Callahan’s nose for business came into play early on in the pandemic. After studying data from over 6,000 patient records from Wuhan, he reportedly detected a pattern that could point to a possible treatment using a low-cost and widely available ingredient of an “over-the-counter histamine-2 receptor antagonist called Famotidine”, more commonly known as the brand name Pepcid.
Simultaneously in the U.S., it is claimed, an old colleague of Callahan’s Dr. Robert Malone had been conducting a study with U.S. government-sponsored research teams. Specifically, Malone was working alongside U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) consultants to carry out supercomputer-based analyses to identify existing FDA-approved drugs that may be useful against the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Per their analyses, famotidine turned out to be the “most attractive combination of safety, cost and pharmaceutical characteristics“.
Callahan, who by then had been recruited to be Special Adviser on COVID-19 to the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR), Robert Kadlec, was presented the joint findings of the U.S. DTRA and Dr. Malone. Both Dr. Callahan and Malone claimed to be unaware of each other’s conclusions regarding the anti-acid, and despite agreeing to collaborate, each claims to have made the initial discovery. Malone offered a February post on LinkedIn as proof, where he asserts that he was “the first to take the drug to treat my own case” upon discovering the proper dose. Callahan, meanwhile, never provided any evidence of his ostensible breakthrough, though he claims to have told Dr. Malone himself about the discovery before the Virginia-based physician began running the sequences through DTRA computers.
Quite a Resume, Mr. Bond
In 1988, Michael Callahan started his first company called Rescue Medicine. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) bio describes the company as a charter organization that provides “emergency air medical evacuation and refugee medical care in austere developing regions”. According to their website, Rescue Medicine supports “federal government and U.S. corporations operating in remote international environments”, becoming a “global leader in disaster medicine research”.
The experience made him a shoe-in as the health director of USAID in Nigeria; a post he held for 4 years, carrying out research on pathogen infections in Africa, prospectively enrolling participants for cutaneous anthrax studies in Nigeria and monkey pox, as well as Ebola and Marburg virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola.
As was the case for several individuals within a certain, tight-knit group within infectious disease and biological weapons circles, 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks changed the course of Callahan’s career, spurring his meteoric rise in both the public and the private sectors. Robert Danzig, Clinton’s Secretary of the Navy, credited Callahan with being “extremely good at connecting the military environment with mainstream public health“. Touted as one of Callahan’s “first high-level links to the military”, Danzig would only be one of many “high level” people the doctor would add to his rolodex over the next two decades.
His time with USAID would overlap with the start of his faculty appointments at Massachusetts General Hospital – appointments he maintains to this day – and his participation in biological terrorism working groups at the National Academies of Sciences, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security.
A year later, in 2002, Callahan would be tapped by the State Department’s director for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation to serve as “clinical director for Cooperative Threat Reduction [CTR] programs” at six former Soviet Union Biological Weapons facilities as part of the Bioindustry Initiative (BII) program, where he was officially tasked with carrying out the stated goals of the mission, which entailed the “reconfiguration of former biological weapons production facilities” in the former Soviet Union and the acceleration of “drug and vaccine production”. More specifically, however, Callahan would be put in charge of gain-of-function programs for viral agents at these facilities.
The CTR, better known as the Nunn-Lugar Act “to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction in states of the former Soviet Union and beyond” was co-authored and sponsored by Senator Sam Nunn, who was none other than the “president” in the bioterror attack simulation that preceded the 2001 anthrax attacks by a matter of months, Dark Winter, an exercise covered by Whitney Webb and this author in the investigative series, Engineering Contagion. A few months prior to the Dark Winter exercise, Nunn had co-founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) with conservative reactionary media mogul, Ted Turner, serving as its CEO until 2017. The NTI would play a critical role in the repurposing the former Soviet bioweapons labs into “vaccine production facilities”, allocating millions of dollars to this end.
A full year before Callahan’s BII appointment, the Sam Nunn Policy Forum received a proposal from two Russian scientists working at the “Vector Institute” or State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in the Novosibirsk district of Siberia. The former Soviet bioweapons R&D center had been selected to serve as a model for the makeover of other former BW facilities into “open and fully transparent” laboratories after the collapse of the Soviet Union; a process that had been discussed “at length” with the U.S. Vector Evaluation Team that had visited the compound a few years earlier in 1998.
The Russian scientists aimed to create a non-profit organization called the International Center for the Study of Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases (ICERID). ICERID was intended to perform research in areas related to diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. The project was presented to the Sam Nunn Policy Forum in 2001. While ICERID, itself, fell through, Vector would nonetheless receive a $600,000 grant from Nunn and Turner’s NTI soon thereafter.
Callahan would follow shortly in tow, under the auspices of the U.S. State Department program, leading clinical research teams at Vector and several other important Soviet bioweapons labs to aid in their transformation into profitable ventures. Callahan was also given access to the infamous Institute of Highly Pure Biopreparations (IHPB) where Soviet microbiologist, Vladimir A. Pasechnik had worked before defecting to England in 1989 and kick-starting the dreams of the international bioweapons mafia detailed in the Engineering Contagion series.
Both IHPB and Vector were part of the five principal institutes of the “Biopreparat” – the broader Soviet BW program. The State Research Center for Applied Microbiology (SRCAM), The Kirov Institute, the Research Center of Molecular Diagnostics & Therapy (RCMDT), RIHOP and Berdsk round out the six labs where Callahan was formally leading clinical research teams; though in Congressional testimony, given together with another high profile Russian defector, Callahan claimed to have worked at “14” separate facilities.
The Russian IP Party
Throughout Callahan’s travels in the former Soviet Union, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) was sharing in the research and scientific innovation taking place in the former Soviet labs as part of the consortium of Massachusetts medical research institutions. In 2004, the “number 1 research hospital in the U.S.“, Mass General was taking part in the Bioindustry Initiative (BII) program, making use of the Russian technology their faculty member, Michael Callahan was in the process of discovering.
“We took a Russian delivery system, a rocket as it were, and put an American warhead on it”, said Jeffrey A. Gelfand, a colleague of Callahan’s and international director of MGH’s Center for Integration of Medicine & Innovative Technology, referring to a drug delivery system taken from the RCMDT, one of the former Soviet facilities then under the clinical directorship of Callahan.
The RCMDT is described as a “small-molecule research facility that traditionally focused on entities the body generates, such as interferon and cytokines, to turn on or turn down the immune response system”. The former Soviet research center obtained a grant from the National Institutes of Health via BII “for a collaborative project on new approaches to disease research”. Another facility Callahan was working at, Vector, also received funding for a novel HIV vaccine and helped file patents “on the institute’s approach to hepatitis C and influenza”. The same institution obtained grants from BII for RNA-based antiviral research.
The task of transforming these former Soviet bioweapons labs into profitable ventures was hitting some cultural walls, according to the then director of the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and chairman of the board of BII precursor ISTC, Ronald F. Lehman II: “They have no experience with a market economy”, he alleged and claimed that they had to “work very hard” to make the Russians understand that intellectual property (IP) was an “economic good”.
Soon enough, the Russian scientists would be ushered into brokered meetings with Eli Lilly and Dow Chemical, among other large Western pharmaceutical companies, to commercialize their discoveries. Much of the groundwork for this had been laid by a sort of precursor of the BII, the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) – a Moscow-based “intergovernmental” organization established in 1992 to serve as “clearinghouse for developing, approving, financing, and monitoring projects aimed at engaging weapons scientists, technicians, and engineers” from the former Soviet Union and other states that were once behind the Iron Curtain.
Lehman conceded that “any kind of economic, political, or social turmoil” would complicate the process or commercializing the scientific work being done in these Eastern bloc labs. But, in the meantime Callahan, along with “BII and its partners” was doing his best “to push as much science as possible from Russian lab benches into production.”
One of the main functions of the BII was “scouting out sites and planning for business development”. At the time of Callahan’s sojourn through Russia, one of the projects that resulted from this activity by the BII and its private NPO partner, the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation (CRDF), had to do with a little-known vaccine plant in the former Soviet state of Georgia.
According to James Wolfram, a senior scientist with the CRDF, the Georgia facility was “antiquated” and housed “dangerous pathogens”. The ostensible goal of converting the vaccine plant into a “feed mill” turned into an agreement between the DoD and the government of the Republic of Georgia officially titled “Cooperation in the field of prevention of the introduction of pathogenesis and experience related to biological weapons development”. That same year, construction began on the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia. The center was completed in 2011.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded a $6.5 million contract to a company called EcoHealth Alliance, Inc to carry out research on “the risk of bat-borne zoonotic disease emergence in Western Asia”. Journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva uncovered the Pentagon project, which focused on “genetic studies on coronaviruses in 5,000 bats collected in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Jordan”.
Gaytandzhieva also detailed the multiple covert activities being carried out by the USG, such as American diplomats trafficking in blood and pathogens for a secret military program, as well as an instance in which a breakout of hemorrhagic fever in the area immediately surrounding the Center was traced back to experiments being carried out by Pentagon scientists on “tropical mosquitos and ticks“.
Not coincidentally, EcoHealth Alliance had previously received a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2014 to study coronaviruses in bats in Asia. This particular study was carried out in partnership with scientists at none other than the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Master of the Dark Sciences
After a few years bouncing from one former Soviet lab to another, Michael Callahan would return to the United States with a head full of new ideas and a brand new job at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) where he could put it all to use as director of the agency’s biodefense therapeutics portfolio.
In the space of just seven years, from 2005 to 2012, Callahan would expand DARPA’s biodefense portfolio from $61 million to $260 million per year and launch eight programs that would generate nine investigational new drugs (INDs) and three new drug applications with products in market, including the injectable fungal treatment, Ambisome (Gilead), which has generated over $6 billion since approval.
Two programs in particular developed by Callahan while at DARPA would later play a critical role in his future involvement in the broader story of the SARS-CoV-2, a.k.a. COVID-19 and the vilification of China, IP and the advancement of a global vaccine regime.
The Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program was created by Michael Callahan in 2006, barely a year after he first came on board as DARPA’s portfolio manager. Its purpose was to find technologies that could “radically accelerate the manufacturing of protein vaccines and protein-based therapeutics”, with the goal of “revolutionizing protein therapeutics and vaccine manufacture” through the private sector.
The program’s mandate dovetailed with concurrent efforts to fundamentally transform the U.S. government’s approach to vaccine manufacture and (Medical Countermeasures) MCMs. Just as Callahan was soliciting proposals and handing millions of DARPA’s money to private companies, the agency was entering into a cooperative agreement (HR0011-07-2-0003) with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to look into the challenges of this endeavor.
The seminal 180-page report that resulted from the 2-year deep dive (2007-2009) into USG procurement and manufacturing methods for MCMs, titled “Ensuring Biologics Advanced Development and Manufacturing Capability for the United States Government: A Summary of Key Findings and Conclusions” was led by Tara O’Toole and Thomas Inglesby, two key individuals in the Dark Winter exercise and perennial participants in the course of the policy and legislative changes, that have led to the establishment of an entrenched biotech mafia in the halls of government.
The central question that this cooperative effort between DARPA and the UPMC wanted to answer was how to incentivize the private sector to manufacture products that only had one buyer, the U.S. government. To this end, the researchers probed different areas such as barriers to entry, cost analysis and several types of manufacturing options. They included one case study to demonstrate what they believed would be the most effective strategy to follow. That case study looked at a company headquartered in Rockville, MD called Novavax, which recently received a $1.6 billion grant (the largest so far) from Trump’s Operation Warp Speed to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine.
The paper lauded the company’s “single-use [bioreactors and bags] equipment bioprocessing facility for the development of their influenza virus-like particle vaccine” and concluded that, although not all biopharma companies would be willing to transition to single-use facilities, it was nonetheless in the government’s best interest to patronize single-use manufacturing processes for MCMs, as these would lower costs and cut down production time by two years.
Several USG incentive programs were cited as successfully removing barriers to entry for private sector participants. Among these were the Orphan Products Program (OPP), tax cuts for Big Pharma, subsidies and, significantly, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) legislation, created by ASPR Robert Kadlec and which established BARDA, clearing the unique “governance” barrier faced by global pharmaceutical firms.
In 2005, just as he was getting ready to decorate his new office at DARPA, Michael Callahan testified before Congress together with Ken Alibek – former deputy director of the Soviet Biopreparat, who defected to the U.S. and became the darling of the bioterror alarmists in and out of government. In his prepared statement, Callahan concluded with a chilling statement that summarizes the general sentiment shared by many in his circle:
“The dark science of biological weapon design and manufacture parallels that of the health sciences and the cross mixed disciplines of modern technology. Potential advances in biological weapon lethality will in part be the byproduct of peaceful scientific progress. So, until the time when there are no more terrorists, the U.S. Government and the American people will depend on the scientific leaders of their field to identify any potential dark side aspect to every achievement…”
Callahan would receive DARPA’s highest commendation, the DARPA Achievement Award, for his success with the Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program. But, it would be another program of his creation that would prove prophetic.
Prophecy was another program created by Callahan at DARPA. It sought to “transform the vaccine and drug development enterprise from observational and reactive to predictive and preemptive” through algorithmic programming techniques. In layman’s terms, the program proposed that “viral mutations and outbreaks” could be predicted in advance to more rapidly counter the unknown disease with preemptive drug and vaccine development.
Among the grantees of Callahan’s program were at least two institutions where he himself held faculty positions. Harvard University, where he holds a clinical appointment, received a $19.6 million contract for a joint project with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Pittsburg and others. Another institution with close ties to Callahan obtaining generous funding through the DARPA Prophecy program was the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, which houses the King Chulalongkorn Medical University where Callahan is a visiting professor.
In 2009, Callahan’s old employer USAID launched PREDICT, an early warning system for new and emerging diseases in 21 countries. Thailand, known for being a “hotbed of undiagnosed illnesses and viruses” among medical experts, was among those 21 nation and a doctor described as a “giant in the field of virus discovery worldwide” was tapped by the CIA cutout to lead the PREDICT program in that country.
Dr. Supaporn “Chu” Wacharapluesadee, from the King Chulalongkorn Memorial and faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University had been conducting research on viruses in bats for years and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on bat pathogens. ” We need more Dr. Supaporns of the world”, exclaimed Callahan in a 2016 interviewwith Vice. The doctor praised his Chulalongkorn University colleague, noting that “Chu” was “at the very top of [his] list” when it came to whom he chose to work with on “virologic expeditions”.
Indeed, Callahan and DARPA had identified Wacharapluesadee as an asset in 2004 when she discovered the Nipah virus in bats, which can affect humans and pigs. Callahan and the Thai doctor worked together on several studies. One of these, funded by the USAID PREDICT project, titled “Diversity of coronavirus in bats from Eastern Thailand” was published in 2015 and carried out between 2008 and 2013, as well as a 2013 study on encephalitis funded by DARPA and the Thai government.
Callahan is not shy about crediting Dr. Wacharapluesadee with allowing the U.S. government to work on “critically important global virology projects”. His compliments could be more than simple admiration, however. It was Dr. Wacharapluesadee, after all, who would find herself at the center of the narrative built around the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China; namely that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) purposely withheld critical genomic information from the world at the outset of the pandemic in January, 2020.
According to a PBS.org story, on January 8, a Thai woman returning from Wuhan was “pulled aside” at the airport over symptoms of a runny nose, sore throat and high temperature. “Supaporn Wacharapluesadee’s team”, as claimed, discovered that the woman was infected with a “new coronavirus”. Dr. Wacharapluesadee herself had allegedly succeeded in “partially” decoding the genetic sequence of the virus by the following day and reported it to the Thai government.
That same day, a 61-year-old man became the first death in Wuhan after succumbing to a disease with a reportedly similar pathology. However, the Chinese government didn’t report it until two days later on January 11 along with the virus sequences from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and its own CDC, sparking accusations against the PRC that it was delaying information about the outbreak. Dr. Wacharapluesadee compared her sequence with the one later published by the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and “found it was a 100% match”, making it the first officially recorded case outside of China and effectively dropping the first domino, which would eventually lead to the WHO declaring a global pandemic two months later.
Callahan, himself, had been stoking the fires about China’s caginess regarding its lack of enthusiasm for scientific collaboration with the West as far back as 2018: “Jeopardizing U.S. access to foreign pathogens and therapies to counter them”, declared Callahan over reports that Chinese officials had “concealed” lab samples of H7N9 (type of bird flu), which he argued “undermines our nation’s ability to protect against infections which can spread globally within days”.
A Close-Knit Cluster of Institutions
Michael Callahan would leave DARPA’s payroll and his official title of Program Manager for Biodefense and Mass-Casualty Care in 2012 and return to Massachusetts General Hospital to run a disease surveillance and antiviral clinical trials program in Africa. But, a man with Callahan’s background never quite leaves government, as he himself admitted in a UAB alumni profile: “I still have federal responsibilities to the White House for pandemic preparedness and exotic disease outbreaks,” said Callahan in 2013, “which will continue for the near future”.
Dennis Carroll, a former USAID director of emerging threats division who had led the U.S.’ response to Avian influenza (H5N1) in 2005, would go on to create PREDICT, which partnered with a non-profit called EcoHealth Alliance to carry out its 9-year effort to catalog hundreds of thousands of biological samples, “including over 10,000 bats“. The aforementioned PREDICT-funded 2015 study on “diversity of coronavirus in bats” by Wacharapluesadee and Callahan also included Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, among its participants.
Daszak, a regular advisor to WHO on pathogen prioritization for R&D, Carroll and Joana Mazet – former global director for USAID’s PREDICT – all joined together in 2016 to form the Global Virome Project; a “10-year collaborative scientific initiative to discover unknown zoonotic viral threats and stop future pandemics”. Mazet was also co-director of UC Davis’ One Health program, which recruited Dr. Wacharapluesadee and her team in Thailand to conduct a multi-year research project on bats. They are joined by Edward Rubin of Metabiota Inc, a recipient of Callahan’s PROPHECY funds at DARPA and, notably, an $18.4 million DTRA contract award for scientific research and consulting work in Ukraine and the Lugar Center in the Republic of Georgia. Metabiota was accused by the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium in 2014 of violating their contract and engaging in dangerous blood culturing work at a lab in Africa, as well as misdiagnosing patients.
EcoHealth’s Executive Vice President, William Karesh, links directly back to the very top of the U.S. biodefense establishment, as a member of ASPR Robert Kadlec’s original Blue Ribbon Panel on Biodefense along with Hudson Institute senior fellows Tevi Troy, Jonah Alexander and Scooter Libby, whose pivotal roles has been detailed in the Engineering Contagion series. EcoHealth Alliance is listed as a partner of the Wuhan Institute of Virology on archived pages of its website and was mentioned as a one of the institute’s “strategic partners” by the WIV’s Deputy Director General, Prof Yanyi Wang, in remarks during the visit of an official U.S. delegation to the institute in 2018.
The relationship between the WIV and the American Biodefense establishment was advanced by EcoHealth Alliance policy advisor, David R. Franz, former commander at U.S. bioweapons lab at Fort Detrick (USAMRIID). Franz was chief inspector on the three UN Special Commission biological warfare inspection tours in Iraq, which included a young Robert Kadlec as a member of the team on the ground, and currently advises Robert Kadlec as a member of HHS’ National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.
Significantly, Franz was also part of the first “U.S.-U.K.” teams that visited the former Soviet Union’s BW facilities in the early 90’s, which led to the creation of the ISCT and subsequent BII program in which Michael Callahan served as clinical director for multiple BW facilities prior to joining DARPA in 2005.
During a visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017 as part of the “Second China-U.S. Workshop on the Challenges of Emerging Infections, Laboratory Safety and Global Health Security“, Franz outlined “possible joint project ideas”, which included carrying out joint “table top exercises” or simulations of outbreaks (e.g. exercises similar to Dark Winter), decision-making surrounding “gain-of-function” research and “overcoming barriers to sharing strain collections and transport of pathogens”. The last point would play a crucial role in the narrative emerging about the ostensible origins of the virus, which has been claimed to be the WIV, itself.
A “renowned” bat coronavirus researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi Zhengli a.k,a “Batwoman”, was not only the first scientist to associate the novel coronavirus with bats, but is also the original source of the claim that the virus had escaped from the WIV, when she mused in a Scientific American article published in March that the thought had crossed her mind and hadn’t “slept a wink” in days worrying about it until the lab tests results came back showing that “none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves”. Zhengli has been at the center of a whirlwind of rumors, including that she had smuggled “hundreds of confidential documents” out of the country and was seeking asylum with her family in France. These rumors have since been denied by Zhengli herself.
Like Thailand’s Dr. Wacharapluesadee, Dr. Zhengli has also worked with EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak on bat-related studies. As far back as 2005, Daszak and Zhengli were conducting research on SARS-like coronaviruses in bats. Several PREDICT-funded studies on SARS-like coronaviruses and Swine Flu count with both Zhengli’s and Daszak’s contributions. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is a 2015 PREDICT and NIH-funded study she co-authored entitled: “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence”.
While Michael Callahan was roaming across Africa for the DoD-funded disease surveillance program at MGH in 2012, United Therapeutics came calling for his services. He joined the publicly-traded company to execute a $45 million NIH contract to develop “next-generation” antivirals and currently holds the position of President of their division of Cellular Therapeutics. True to his word, Callahan didn’t let his day job interfere with any mission the federal government might send him on.
In March 2020, Callahan was on board the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Pike on his way to a cruise ship off the coast of California to separate the sick from the healthy among the 3,500 passengers of the Grand Princess. In a few days, the WHO would officially declare the coronavirus to be a global pandemic and spur the lurch into a “new normal” where quarantines, masks and hand sanitizer would be peddled as unquestionable realities.
Days earlier, NIAID director, Anthony S. Fauci, had come on Face the Nation, in one of his first televised appearances to announce, among other things, the implementation of the 14-day quarantine for all Americans as news of infected U.S. citizens on board cruise ships was making the rounds on all mainstream media outlets. The State Department would issue a travel warning specifically for cruise ship passengers on March 8, barely three days before the WHO’s official pandemic declaration.
Callahan, ever the disaster entrepreneur, had struck while the iron was still hot in February and put on his Rescue Medicine hat – the company he had founded in the 80’s – to assist “Japanese and U.S. health authorities” tend to the sick aboard the Diamond Princess, which was being held in the Japanese port of Yokohama, near Tokyo. “There was no way this wasn’t going to show up on a cruise ship first,” Callahan told the Miami Herald. “Cruise ships are the canary for disease outbreak that reveals these diseases on a grand scale”.
But, it appears that Dr. Callahan did not need the cruise ships to alert him about the nature or scale of the problem. Already by January 4, 2020, four days before his esteemed colleague in Thailand, Dr. Wacharapluesadee, had run the genomic data and come up with a “partial” sequence and a full match had been determined after China and the WIV had released their sequences, Callahan had phoned his old friend Dr. Malone in New York with news of a new emerging disease out of Wuhan, China.
In March, ASPR Robert Kadlec, wrote to Northwell’s executive vice president of research encouraging him to draw up a contract proposal and a budget for the “Pepcid trial” with Callahan. The proposal that came back was about $20.75 million-short of what Dr. Malone, whose Alchem Laboratories Corporation would be getting the actual contract, apparently wanted.
“We stepped in to do it on behalf of Northwell (which) knows nothing about federal contracting”, Malone told AP. But, it seems that Callahan’s Pepcid brainstorm ruffled a few feathers at HHS. Former BARDA director, Rick Bright, cited the Pepcid fiasco as the prime example of how Kadlec “was inviting violations of federal procurement law” in his March 5th complaint.
For the moment, the Pepcid trials are on hold as Malone and Callahan work out who gets the credit for the “idea”. Robert Kadlec, meanwhile, remains the ASPR and – as far as we know – Michael Callahan is still advising him on matters pertaining to COVID-19.
Acknowledgements: Whitney Webb contributed with research for this article
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Dr. Callahan had called Dr. Malone on January 4, 2020 to suggest the possible use of Famotidine as a treatment. Dr. Robert Malone clarified to Unlimited Hangout that Callahan had only alerted him about an outbreak of the virus on that date. We have revised this article accordingly and regret the error.