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NIH unearths more grant violations by Wuhan lab collaborator EcoHealth Alliance

Peter Daszak
Peter Daszak of the World Health Organization team sits in a car on his way to a field visit in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021. Daszak, part of the team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, says the Chinese side granted full access to all sites and personnel they requested to visit and meet with. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) Ng Han Guan/AP

NIH unearths more grant violations by Wuhan lab collaborator EcoHealth Alliance

January 12, 03:12 PM January 12, 03:38 PM

The U.S. taxpayer-funded nonprofit group that collaborated with a Chinese laboratory on risky bat virus research just before the initial COVID-19 outbreak has earned another slap on the wrist from authorities.

EcoHealth Alliance, which the government has already said broke rules with bat coronavirus experiments that critics call gain-of-function research, has been hit with more violations by the National Institutes of Health. In a letter to EcoHealth sent last week and just made public, NIH Deputy Director Michael Lauer blasted the organization’s poor record of complying with agency standards and accused it of charging “inappropriate” rates related to a Wuhan lab grant.

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The NIH paused its funding of EcoHealth’s Wuhan lab research in 2020 but has continued sending money to EcoHealth for other viral research.

“[EcoHealth has] demonstrated a history of failure to comply with several elements of the terms and conditions of grant awards not only for these active awards, but also for the suspended award,” Lauer wrote of EcoHealth, which has reaped millions of dollars in grants from the NIH.

Lauer accused EcoHealth of flouting the rules on several ongoing, U.S.-funded projects, including one $3 million study of “spillover risk of high zoonotic potential viruses from wildlife” conducted in collaboration with international scientists. But the NIH also said EcoHealth overcharged on its “facilities and administrative” costs filed for work done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab where a growing number of experts believe COVID-19 originated.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, who made the NIH letter public, said it “confirms EcoHealth hid the truth about their risky coronavirus experiments in Wuhan.”


Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, said the new letter shows the NIH is still going soft on EcoHealth.

“Inexplicably, the letter imposes no sanctions on EcoHealth — which continues to receive $2.1 million annually in NIH funding,” said Ebright, one of several scientists who believe EcoHealth and the Wuhan lab were engaged in improper gain-of-function research, or experiments that make naturally occurring viruses more dangerous to humans.

EcoHealth was reprimanded by the NIH’s principal deputy director, Lawrence Tabak, in October, when Tabak found that the organization delayed revealing that a U.S.-funded experiment conducted with the Wuhan lab determined that mice with implanted human cells became sicker with an engineered version of bat coronavirus. Terms of the grant required such a finding to be reported immediately.

At the time, Republican lawmakers and others charged that EcoHealth had conducted risky gain-of-function research with NIH funding, but the NIH denied it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also been adamant that the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research at the Chinese government lab.

At issue is $600,000 in grant funding that EcoHealth received from NIH in 2019 and steered to the Wuhan lab for bat coronavirus research without going through the U.S. government’s formalized gain-of-function vetting process and whether that research could be tied to the virus that may have leaked from the lab. Republican Sen. Rand Paul requested last summer that Attorney General Merrick Garland criminally investigate Fauci over Senate testimony in which the doctor said NIH never funded gain-of-function research.

Documents unearthed last year show the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency rejected EcoHealth’s $14.2 million funding request for bat virus research in 2018 out of concern it could “potentially involve [gain-of-function] research.”


Fauci continued to insist as recently as November that it is “much more likely” that COVID-19 originated in nature rather than from the Wuhan lab.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment in the summer stating that one U.S. intelligence agency assessed with “moderate confidence” that COVID-19 most likely emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, while four U.S. spy agencies and the National Intelligence Council believe with “low confidence” COVID-19 most likely has a natural origin.

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