Republicans are calling for a halt to funding for a virus-hunting group

Senior Republicans have made a decision by the Biden administration to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to a virus-hunting group already under fire for its past work with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Three members of Congress have called on health officials to reverse a recent decision to give the EcoHealth Alliance over $500,000 to fund its work looking for new coronaviruses in the wild. The grant is one of four the organization has received since the pandemic began, totaling more than $7 million.

EcoHealth, which is based in the US and is led by British scientist Peter Daszak, was previously criticized for coronavirus experiments it conducted on mice in 2015 with its laboratory in Wuhan, the city where Covid-19 was first discovered and for their subsequent failure to disclose the full details of the studies.

Experts also argue that the nature of EcoHealth’s virus surveillance work – which involves preemptively experimenting with a range of viruses to be ready to develop vaccines if they are ever needed, rather than just studying specific viruses when outbreaks occur – is unnecessary is dangerous .

Roger Marshall, the Republican Senator from Kansas, said: “The EcoHealth Alliance and [the US National Institutes of Health] work together to push risky research involving deadly pathogens beyond the reach of US oversight.”

Andrew Weber, who was assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration and is now a senior fellow on the Council on Strategic Risks, called the work “reckless, risky research of no benefit to humanity.”

Despite the criticism, there’s no evidence the company’s mouse experiments contributed to the pandemic in 2015. Recent awards for EcoHealth are also not related to the Wuhan lab.

EcoHealth has been researching new coronaviruses for years, often hunting for diseased bats in remote locations in Southeast Asia. However, the group came under fire for some of their NIH-funded work with the Wuhan lab in 2015, when the lab and EcoHealth took samples of coronavirus and ran experiments on mice that made the virus even deadlier.

The NIH approved last year that it had not been informed by EcoHealth of the outcome of the mouse trials, despite the company’s obligation to do so under the terms of its grant agreement.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, accused the company of failing to answer questions as part of a Republican investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

“EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak shouldn’t get a penny of taxpayers’ money until they are fully transparent. point,” she said. “This is madness.”

The Wuhan lab itself has come under intense scrutiny since Covid-19 was first detected in the Chinese province, and has been criticized by many scientists for conducting its experiments at dangerously low levels of biosecurity.

Last October, the Biden administration released a report showing that an unnamed intelligence agency believed the pandemic originally stemmed from an accident involving this type of research at the Wuhan lab. Others believed the pandemic started naturally, although they said they couldn’t be sure.

New NIH Disclosures show that it has continued to fund EcoHealth for the past two years and awarded a grant to an entirely new project that started two weeks ago.

According to the filings, the NIH gave EcoHealth about $1.5 million in 2020, 2021 and 2022 for its coronavirus surveillance work, which includes testing the samples on genetically modified mice.

Neither EcoHealth nor the NIH responded to multiple requests for comment. However, EcoHealth has defended its work in the past, stating that the more scientists know about diseases circulating in the wild, the better they can develop treatments and vaccines for them, should they ever spread to humans.

Joni Ernst, Republican Senator from Iowa, said, “It’s absolutely stupid that the NIH is giving EcoHealth another penny of taxpayers’ money.”

https://www.ft.com/content/5504ad3a-eef2-49eb-b8dc-2a417d6f711c Republicans are calling for a halt to funding for a virus-hunting group

Adam Bradshaw

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