Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens

WHO advisory group

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Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens (or SAGO)[1][2][3] is a permanent advisory body of the World Health Organization, formed in July 2021, with a broad objective to examine emerging infectious diseases, including COVID-19.[1][4] According to the WHO Director-General, "SAGO will play a vital role in the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, as well as the origins of future new pathogens."[1] The group was formed after the WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 was disbanded by the WHO.[5][6] In February 2022, the WHO Director General visited China and met the Chinese premier and discussed the need for "stronger collaboration on Covid-19 virus origins, rooted in science and evidence" .[7][8]



The WHO first announced its decision to create SAGO in July 2021, following the WHO-convened Global Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2, which countries including the United States, Japan and Australia reportedly said was "compromised by a lack of transparency from China". The WHO-convened report finding that a laboratory incident was "extremely unlikely" was reportedly also pushed back on by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom who called on China to share raw data, be transparent, and cooperate for the next phase of the study. Critics of the WHO convened study group said it was hampered by conflict of interest, as one member had a long-standing working relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Chinese government responded stating the WHO-China joint mission report was "authoritative, science-based & widely recognized" and urged "relevant parties to stop politicizing the issue of origin-tracing."[9][10]

The technical lead of the WHO's COVID-19 response Maria Van Kerkhove told the Washington Post in October 2021 that the new SAGO group, which includes scientists from the United States and China, is "a real opportunity right now to get rid of all the noise, all the politics surrounding this and focus on what we know". However, Lawrence Gostin of the Georgetown University Law Center, who specializes in public health law, said to the WaPo "If you believe that SAGO will answer the question, what was the origin of SARS-CoV-2, then you are sadly mistaken because there is little to no chance of them gaining access to information or on-the-ground investigation as far as China is concerned". Van Kerkhove said that a mission to a member state needs to be arranged and is hopeful that "there will be additional missions to China and potentially elsewhere". Gostin said the biggest value of the group would be not for COVID-19, but for the WHO to have an expert standing committee rigorously vetted to investigate future outbreaks where conflicts arise.[11]

Panel Membership

On October 13, 2021, the WHO issued a "public notice" listing 26 "proposed members" for the group, offering the public to provide "public comments" on the individuals selected.[12][9]

During the public comments period, several scientists including Alina Chan said that several individuals proposed members may carry biases, and that no members from the WHO-convened study team should have been selected for SAGO.[13][14]

On November 1, 2021, the WHO announced it would re-open the call for applications for an additional three days to encourage more applications from experts in the social sciences fields of anthropology, ethics, political science and the fields of biosafety and biosecurity.[15][16]

On November 24, the group held its first meeting with 27 members, chaired by medical virologist Marietjie Venter, from the University of Pretoria (South Africa), with Jean-Claude Manuguerra, from Institut Pasteur (France), as vice-chairman, and two new members from social sciences and biosecurity fields. The meeting was largely procedural, and members agreed to meet frequently to form an overarching framework to study emerging novel pathogens, including the origins of COVID-19.[17][18]


Several scientists criticised the formation of SAGO's panel for lacking certain areas of expertise.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Staff (16 July 2021). "WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on Origins". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 9 September 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  2. ^ Cohen, Jon (17 July 2021). "With call for 'raw data' and lab audits, WHO chief pressures China on pandemic origin probe – A new team of scientists may replace agency group already probing the start of COVID-19". Science. Archived from the original on 26 September 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  3. ^ Kupferschmidt, Kai (25 August 2021). "New WHO group aims to improve efforts to find pathogen origins – The World Health Organization's Maria Van Kerkhove on the hunt for COVID-19 origins and what's next". Science. Archived from the original on 26 September 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  4. ^ Staff (8 September 2021). "Deadline extension – call for experts to join the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO)". World Health Organization. Archived from the original on 6 October 2021. Retrieved 27 September 2021.
  5. ^ "WHO Seeks to Revive Stalled Inquiry into Origins of Covid-19 with New Team". Wall Street Journal. 26 September 2021.
  6. ^ "'We've done nothing wrong.' EcoHealth leader fights charges that his research helped spark COVID-19".
  7. ^ "WHO chief says discussed collaboration on COVID origins with Chinese premier". Reuters. 5 February 2022.
  8. ^ "China, WHO seek 'stronger collaboration' on Covid-19 origins probe". 6 February 2022.
  9. ^ a b "WHO names new team of scientists to take over coronavirus origins probe". 13 October 2021.
  10. ^[bare URL]
  11. ^ Adam Taylor (13 October 2021). "WHO announces new expert group to investigate origins of the coronavirus and other outbreaks". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 1330888409.
  12. ^ "Public notice of proposed new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) members".
  13. ^ Gollom, Mark (20 October 2021) [October 19, 2021]. "The WHO hopes its new panel can determine the origin of COVID-19. Some experts are skeptical". CBC News. Archived from the original on 20 October 2021. Retrieved 20 October 2021.
  14. ^ Thacker, Paul D (22 October 2021). "Covid-19: New WHO group to look into pandemic origins is dogged by alleged conflicts of interest". BMJ. 375: n2588. doi:10.1136/bmj.n2588. PMID 34686483. S2CID 239459307.
  15. ^ "Re-opening – additional call for experts to join the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO)".
  16. ^ "WHO calls for more experts to apply to join Sago virus origins team". November 2021.
  17. ^ "First meeting of Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO)".
  18. ^ "Coronavirus origins: WHO's Sago experts sit down for first meeting". South China Morning Post. 25 November 2021.
  19. ^ Moon, Joshua; Wenham, Clare; Harman, Sophie (2021). "SAGO has a politics problem, and WHO is ignoring it". BMJ. 375: n2786. doi:10.1136/bmj.n2786. PMID 34772656. S2CID 244041854.

External links

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