(Nov. 18, 2021) — The walls are closing in on Dr. Anthony Fauci as emails reveal the National Institutes of Health colluded with EcoHealth Alliance to circumvent federal restrictions on gain-of-function (GOF) research.
The damning revelations were published by The Intercept1 and Daily Caller,2 November 3, 2021. While the NIH has kept the grant correspondence secret, only allowing select congressional staff to review the documentation in a private session, The Intercept was given access to their personal notes.
Considering federal grants are of clear public interest, the NIH’s decision to not make the correspondence public is suspicious in and of itself. Are they hiding something? You bet. As reported by Intercept journalists Sharon Lerner and Mara Hvistendahl:3
“Emails show that NIH officials allowed EcoHealth Alliance to craft oversight language governing its own gain-of-function research …
Detailed notes on NIH communications obtained by The Intercept show that beginning in May 2016, agency staff had an unusual exchange with Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance, about experiments his group was planning to conduct on coronaviruses under an NIH grant called ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence’4 …
EcoHealth was entering the third year of the five-year, $3.1 million grant that included research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other partners. In a 2016 progress report, the group described to NIH its plans to carry out two planned experiments infecting humanized mice with hybrid viruses, known as ‘chimeras.’
The plans triggered concerns at NIH. Two staff members — Jenny Greer, a grants management specialist, and Erik Stemmy, a program officer handling coronavirus research — wrote to EcoHealth Alliance to say that the experiments ‘appear to involve research covered under the pause,’ referring to a temporary moratorium5 on funding for gain-of-function research that would be reasonably anticipated to make MERS and SARS viruses more pathogenic or transmissible in mammals …
Initially, NIH staff appeared intent on enforcing the funding pause … But what happened next sets off alarm bells for biosafety advocates: Agency staff adopted language that EcoHealth Alliance crafted to govern its own work.
The agency inserted several sentences into grant materials describing immediate actions the group would take if the viruses they created proved to become more transmissible or disease-causing as the result of the experiments.”
NIH Tries to Evade Responsibility
The NIH is now trying to evade responsibility by shifting blame for the unlawful research onto EcoHealth Alliance. October 21, 2021, NIH principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak, Ph.D., sent a letter6,7,8 to James Comer, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, “to provide additional information and documents regarding NIH’s grant to EcoHealth Alliance Inc.”
In the letter, Tabak acknowledged that Fauci lied to Congress when he emphatically insisted the NIH/NIAID have never funded GOF research. However, when it comes to circumventing the research moratorium, Tabak lays the blame squarely at the feet of EcoHealth. According to Tabak:9
“The limited experiment described in the final progress report provided by EcoHealth Alliance was testing if spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model …
In this limited experiment, laboratory mice infected with the SHC014 WIV 1 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 research plan was reviewed by NIH in advance of funding, and NIH determined that it did not to fit the definition of research involving enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential (ePPP) because these bat coronaviruses had not been shown to infect humans. As such, the research was not subject to departmental review under the HHS P3CO Framework.
However, out of an abundance of caution and as an additional layer of oversight, language was included in the terms and conditions of the grant award to EcoHealth that outlined criteria for a secondary review, such as a requirement that the grantee report immediately a one log increase in growth.
These measures would prompt a secondary review to determine whether the research aims should be re-evaluated or new biosafety measures should be enacted. EcoHealth failed to report this finding right away, as was required by the terms of the grant.”
In other words, EcoHealth’s experiment “accidentally” turned into GOF. At that point, EcoHealth should have alerted the NIH, but allegedly didn’t. So, according to Tabak, NIH bears no responsibility as they relied on EcoHealth to follow the terms of the grant.
EcoHealth has denied this charge, saying “These data were reported as soon as we were made aware, in our year four report in April 2018 … At no time did program staff indicate to us that this work required further clarification or secondary review.”10,11
As noted by The Intercept,12 Tabak implies the NIH created that reporting rule “out of an abundance of caution,” but according to the correspondence The Intercept reviewed, “the language was inserted at Daszak’s suggestion,” and “the NIH and EcoHealth Alliance worked together to evade additional oversight.”
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