NIH admits funding experiment resulting in 'gain-of-function'

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci addresses his remarks and urges citizens to continue to follow the president’s coronavirus guidelines during a coronavirus (COVID-19) briefing Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins have declared under oath that they did not fund the dangerous gain-of-function virus research in China that now is believed be the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now the NIH has admitted in a letter to the leading Republican on the House Oversight Committee that the U.S. funded an experiment at the Wuhan Insitute of Virology in which a bat coronavirus was modified, creating a virus that made mice “sicker” than the original virus.

In the letter issued Wednesday, NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak told House Oversight Committee ranking Republican James Comer of a final progress report submitted in August by EcoHealth Alliance, the non-profit founded by the U.S.-based British zoologist Peter Daszak.

Tabak, while tacitly admitting the “limited experiment” meets the definition of gain-of-function research, insists that the outcome was unintended.

“As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do,” he writes.

But the implications of Tabak’s admission are enormous, contends Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers who has called for a thorough investigation of the origin of the pandemic.

“NIH — and specifically, Collins, Fauci, and Tabak — lied to Congress, lied to the press, and lied to the public,” he tweeted Wednesday night with an image of the letter. “Knowingly. Willfully. Brazenly.”

Commenting on Ebright’s tweet, President Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said that “to call this a bombshell is an understatement.”

“Dr. Fauci and others claimed under oath the NIH didn’t fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Lab. Now the obvious is confirmed: they did,” Meadows wrote.

Meadows, in an interview Thursday morning with Steve Bannon’s “War Room,” said Fauci and the NIH intentionally funded gain-of-function, saying they “need to be held accountable for their actions.”

The former White House chief of staff said that when he and President Trump cut off funding to the Wuhan lab, Fauci was still advocating for the research in China.

Fauci and Collins wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in 2011 advocating gain-of-function research titled “A flu virus risk worth taking.”

MIT professor Kevin M. Esvelt countered that view in a recent Washington Post op-ed titled “Manipulating viruses risking pandemics is too dangerous.”

See Meadows’ remarks Thursday:

Meadows posted a clip on Twitter of Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., questioning Fauci about funding of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, saying the NIAID director “has some explaining to do.”

In the Senate hearing, Fauci affirmed to Kennedy that his agency did not give money to the lab to do gain-of-function research.

Kennedy wanted to know how Fauci could be sure that grant recipients didn’t do that kind of research anyway.

“Well, we always trust the grantee to do what they say, and we look at the results,” Fauci said.

But Fauci acknowledged he could not “guarantee that a grantee has not lied to us.”

Earlier this month, Francis Collins announced his resignation as NIH director. The move came shortly after Ebright said government documents reported by The Intercept “make it clear that assertions by the NIH Director, Francis Collins, and the NIAID Director, Anthony Fauci, that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement at WIV are untruthful.”

Ebright was among the 16 scientists who authored a letter published last month in the prestigious British science journal The Lancet calling for another look at the evidence that the pandemic began with a lab leak. The scientists condemned a February 2020 letter organized by Daszak marginalizing anyone who entertained the lab-leak theory as a conspiricist.

Ebright and his 15 colleagues said Daszak’s letter and a subsequent missive had “a silencing effect on the wider scientific debate, including among science journalists.”

It was under Collins’ leadership that the NIH lifted a moritorium on gain-of-function research in 2017 that was implemented during the Obama administration due to concerns that the research could trigger an outbreak.

NIH to Daszak: Turn over your data
In his letter Wednesday, Tabak said that NIH had concluded EcoHealth’s proposed research did not meet the standard for “enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential” because the researchers didn’t show that the bat coronaviruses could infect humans. However, he said, EcoHealth failed to immediately report the occurence of “a one log increase in growth,” which would require an NIH review.

Tabak said EcoHealth now has five days to turn over to NIH all of its unpublished data from the research.

The NIH deputy director insisted that the virus in the EcoHealth experiment “could not have become SARS-CoV-2” because the “sequences of the viruses are genetically very distinct.”

Separately on Wednesday, NIH issued a statement countering “misinformation” about the origin of COVID-19, declaring “the virus is likely the result of viral evolution in nature” and not developed as a “biological weapon.”

However, Ebright pointed out on Twitter that the statement does not mention the violation of NIH’s grant terms by EcoHealth spelled out the letter as well as other violations reported earlier this month by The Intercept.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who confronted Fauci on gain-of-function research in several House hearings over the past year, countered NIH’s contention that gain-of-function was “an unexpected result.”

“If the experiment combines unknown viruses and tests their ability to infect and damage humanized cells, of course the result is ‘unknown’ before the experiment,” he argued Thursday on Twitter, adding in another tweet that NIH is still funding EcoHealth collaboration with Wuhan thru 2025.”

Further, the evidence that the NIH-funded EcoHealth Alliance was involved in deliberate gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab is considerable.

In one instance in which Paul confronted Fauci, the White House coronavirus adviser declared “the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute.”

But Paul pointed out that NIH grant records verify that funds were sent to EcoHealth Alliance that were used for research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And a paper by chief Wuhan research Dr. Shi Zengli — with whom Daszak collaborated — provides details on the research of bat coronaviruses.

Titled “Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses,” the paper acknowledged the funding came from Fauci’s NAID. And MIT scientists who have examined the paper conclude Shi was doing gain-of-function research with that funding.

The paper’s introduction, in fact, describes the risky gain-of-function studies, which alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible and deadly so that a response can be prepared in advance of a possible outbreak. Shi and her colleagues wrote that their research examines the “potential for pathogenesis of SARS-related coronaviruses (SARSr-CoVs) … found in bats, as this information can help prepare countermeasures against future spillover and pathogenic infections in humans with novel coronaviruses.”

See clips of Paul’s confrontation of Fauci:

In July, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a criminal referral to the Department of Justice accusing Fauci of lying to Congress about his role in funding research at the Wuhan lab.

Fauci is seen on video at a January 2018 NIAID Advisory Council meeting announcing the reinstatement of gain-of-function research and defending its use.

See the video:

A press release from the Chinese lab recounted a May 2017 conference it hosted, featuring recipients of NIH grants, that focused on “gain of function research and gene editing.”

At another conference in 2017, in which Fauci participated, Daszak is seen in a video telling of “work on coronaviruses in China” that was funded through Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Daszak, speaking on a panel that included Fauci, said that with “funding through NIAID to work on coronaviruses in China, we were able to test out this idea of predicting what the next emerging diseases might be.”

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony S. Fauci attends a coronavirus update briefing Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

“So we’ve all heard of SARS. We know that SARS is carried by civets. Well, actually, the host of SARS-like viruses, the viruses that the SARS coronavirus emerged from are bats,” Daszak said at the “Healthy People, Healthy Ecosystems” conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.

Daszak and Fauci were part of a three-member panel at the conference with the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Anne Schuchat, focused on pandemic preparedness.

A description of the panel said: “Although much is known about how to detect and respond to existing infections, more research is needed to predict the likelihood of their emergence and spread, and to improve the precision and timeliness of public health responsiveness.”

Last month, the Telegraph of London reported a U.S. grant proposal shows Daszak and his team of researchers at the Wuhan lab sought funding for a plan to make coronavirus particles transmissible to humans and release them in bat populations.

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