A leading critic of the National Institutes of Health contends the federal agency “put at risk” U.S. public health and national security by funding a bat coronavirus research project by EcoHealth Alliance.
Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told the Washington Examiner that a new letter in which the NIH conceded that the group run by Peter Daszak violated its rules when conducting bat coronavirus research is a "bombshell" admission because it “corrects the untruthful assertions” by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and his boss, NIH Director Francis Collins, both of whom claim the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China.
Ebright’s assertions are challenged by the NIH, which continues to back the contentions made by Collins, who is retiring from his role, and Fauci on the politically charged issue that strikes at the root of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawrence Tabak, the NIH's principal deputy director, said in the Wednesday letter that EcoHealth Alliance provided a five-year progress report on bat coronavirus research conducted under an NIH grant and that “in this limited experiment, laboratory mice infected with the SHC014 WIV1 bat coronavirus became sicker than those infected with the WIV1 bat coronavirus.”
“As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do," the agency said, adding: “EcoHealth failed to report this finding right away, as was required by the terms of the grant.”
With critics, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, contending the letter confirms that the Wuhan lab collaborator had indeed been conducting gain-of-function research, Ebright said, “NIH's acknowledgment of the facts is new, but the facts themselves are not.” He insisted the NIH had been “informed about the gain-of-function research in Wuhan in 2018 and again in 2020.”
Gain-of-function research is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as research “that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease" to "enable assessment of the pandemic potential of emerging infectious agents." It warns these studies “may entail biosafety and biosecurity risks.”
“Collins and Fauci lied to Congress, lied to the press, and lied to the public," Ebright said. "Knowingly, willfully, and brazenly."
After a pause in 2014, HHS announced the creation of the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight Framework in 2017, which was ostensibly set up to review any grants that might involve gain-of-function research. However, the 2019 renewal of the EcoHealth Alliance grants was not subjected to the P3CO review, according to the NIH.
“By failing to forward the proposal for the required HHS-level risk-benefit assessment, and then by funding the proposal without the required HHS-level risk-benefit assessment, officials at the NIH violated federal policies that were put in place to protect U.S. national security and U.S. public health ... and put at risk U.S. national security and U.S. public health,” Ebright told the Washington Examiner. “The NIH spokesperson — or preferably the NIH officials who funded the proposal without the required HHS-level risk-benefit assessment — need to explain how this violation of federal policy occurred and what steps are being taken to ensure that similar violations of federal policy do not occur in the future.”
An NIH spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that “the comments being made are incorrect.”
Specifically, the spokesperson said, “the research that requires increased oversight under the HHS P3CO Framework is that which is reasonably anticipated to create, transfer, or use potential pandemic pathogens resulting from the enhancement of a pathogen’s transmissibility and/or virulence in humans.”
But, as Ebright told the Washington Examiner, “It also is correct — incontrovertibly correct — that the results” in EcoHealth Alliance’s progress reports and proposals “show that EcoHealth and its Wuhan partner constructed novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses — artificial, lab-generated viruses that do not have counterparts circulating in nature — that exhibited 10,000 times enhanced viral load and two to four times enhanced pathogenicity in infection studies in mice engineered to display human receptors on their cells (‘humanized mice’).”
The professor said it “therefore is correct that the proposal for the second 5-year grant term, which proposed to construct more such novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviuruses — included research reasonably anticipated — indeed highly likely — to create, transfer, or use potential pandemic pathogens resulting from the enhancement of a pathogen’s transmissibility and/or virulence in humans — and, therefore, it is correct that the proposal for the second 5-year grant term required HHS-level risk-benefit assessment under the HHS P3CO Framework.”
Fauci sat in the hot seat in May during a Senate hearing in which he clashed with Paul.
“I do not have an accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I am fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China. However, I will repeat again — the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology," Fauci said.
That was in response to Paul asking Fauci if he would "categorically" say COVID-19 could not have occurred through serial passage in a laboratory.
There were also some telling comments from Collins in an interview that same month.
“NIH would not have supported any such research on coronaviruses because there are risks there that you might actually end up producing a virus that has a higher danger attached to it than what nature has already come up with," Collins said.
“We absolutely did not fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan," Collins added.
The NIH told the Washington Examiner that EcoHealth Alliance’s research “aimed to advance our understanding of the interactions of the spike protein with the ACE2 receptor, one component of human biology, in viral infection” but insisted “the presence of the human receptor alone is not sufficient to drive human infection.”
Daszak maintained a long working relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, sending her lab at least $600,000 in NIH funding. Daszak was also part of the World Health Organization-China team that dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” earlier this year.
An NIH spokesperson told the Daily Caller that “because a mouse got sicker doesn’t mean it would make a human sicker” and added that “the mouse study doesn’t tell us anything about human biology except how the viruses interact with the human ACE2 receptor."
Ebright offered a response to that as well.
“They have no shame. In essence, they are claiming that, because the NIH did not fund infection studies with lab-generated viruses and human subjects — Uyghur detainees? Falun Gong dissidents? — the NIH did not fund gain of function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement subject to the federal policies," he told the Daily Caller, which reported that the NIH spokesperson objected to Ebright’s interpretation.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy