The White House has abruptly cut off funding to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) coronavirus research, said Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Mr Facui made the revelation when speaking to Congress on Tuesday about the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Representative Marc Veasey, a Democrat from Texas, first asked Mr Fauci why the funding was cut in April during a House Energy & Commerce Hearing.
“Why was it cancelled? It was cancelled because the NIH was told to cancel it,” Dr Fauci said. “I don’t know the reason, but we were told to cancel it.”
The Trump administration abruptly slashed funding in April for a research grant to the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, with more than $350,000 still in the group’s 2020 grant.
After the hearing, Dr Fauci told Politico it was the White House that told the NIH to cancel this grant. When contacted, the White House said it encouraged the defunding of the programme, but ultimately it was up to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make the final decision.
“The grantee was not in compliance with NIH’s grant policy,” an HHS spokesperson told Politico but declined to comment further on the decision.
The cancellation of the grant came after reports surfaced about EcoHealth Alliances’ research with a virologist at Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China, who works with bat coronaviruses.
This lab became the centre of a conspiracy theory with the US federal government speculating that Covid-19 did not originate at a Wuhan wet market but instead in WIV.
During a coronavirus press briefing on 17 April, a reporter asked why the US would provide a grant to China amid this pandemic with rumours circulating about where the virus originated.
”We will end that grant very quickly,” President Donald Trump responded.
The grant was then terminated on 24 April, with the NIH writing to EcoHealth Alliance: “At this time, NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities.”
Gerald Keusch, a former director of NIH’s Fogarty International Centre, previously described the cancellation of funding for the grant “the most counterproductive thing I could imagine,” according to Science Magazine.
The decision faced a backlash from many health research professionals because no proof has held up the lab conspiracy theory.
EcoHealth President Peter Daszak tweeted that it was an “obvious case of political interference” on Tuesday following Dr Fauci’s testimony in front of Congress.
“Eventually, we’ll all know the shoddy truth of how a conspiracy theory pushed by this administration led @NIHDirector to block the only US research group still working in China to analyse Covid origins,” he wrote. “Thanks to this China can now do the research, we can’t!”
Virologists at the Wuhan lab have long disputed claims the virus broke out from the facility.