EcoHealth Alliance Responds to Recent Comments from Members of Congress and the Senate about their NIH Grant Renewal on 4/26/23
May 12 2023 – Some of the comments from Members of Congress and the Senate about the recent renewal of EcoHealth Alliance’s NIH grant to research bat coronaviruses are based on false premises. This statement respectfully corrects the record:
1. EcoHealth Alliance did not support “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Such experiments fall under the US HHS P3CO regulations (https://www.phe.gov/s3/dualuse/documents/p3co.pdf ), which define gain-of-function research as likely to create new viral strains with “enhanced transmissibility or virulence” for viruses that are already (1) “likely highly transmissible and likely capable of wide and uncontrollable spread in human populations;” and (2) “likely highly virulent and likely to cause significant morbidity and/or mortality in humans.” The SARS-related research conducted under NIH funding prior to the pandemic at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) only dealt with bat coronaviruses that had never been shown to infect people, let alone cause morbidity and/or mortality in humans, and therefore by definition was not gain-of-function research. This was confirmed by NIH in a July 7th 2016 letter to EcoHealth Alliance now made public stating “NIAID is in agreement that the work proposed … is not subject to the GoF research funding pause” and repeated by NIH spokesperson Elizabeth Deatrick (https://theintercept.com/2021/09/09/covid-origins-gain-of-function-research/ ).
2. Statements made by some members of Congress and the Senate suggest that they may be unaware that the NIH grant renewal reflects revised aims developed in consultation with NIAID and NIH staff that respond to any ongoing concerns by removing all on-the-ground work in China and all recombinant virus culture or infection experiments. EcoHealth Alliance has also addressed the issues noted in the HHS OIG’s audit report and agreed to additional oversight mechanisms applied by NIH. The renewed work will involve collaboration only between EcoHealth Alliance and the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School, with the following specific aims: (1) identifying high-spillover risk bat SARSr-CoV sequences in southern China and assessing drivers of recombination; (2) conducting community- and clinic-based surveillance of archived pre-COVID-19 human samples to identify SARSr-CoV spillover events, routes of exposure, and potential public health consequences; and (3) characterizing SARSr-CoV binding, ability to evade therapeutics/vaccines, and identifying spillover hotspots.
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