Republicans Spin NIH Letter About Coronavirus Gain-of-Function Research
Republicans say a letter from a National Institutes of Health official is an admission that the agency funded so-called gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses in China, with some falsely linking the work to the pandemic coronavirus. But the research, which the NIH maintains is not gain-of-function, could not have led to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
On Oct. 20, the Republican staff of the House Oversight and Reform Committee released a letter from NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak responding to an inquiry about a grant awarded to EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based scientific nonprofit focused on pandemic prevention and conservation.
The grant, which was awarded in 2014 and was canceled in April 2020, has been the subject of much controversy. It assessed the potential for bat coronaviruses in China to spillover and infect people and included some experiments mixing and matching elements of different viruses to better understand them. It also involved a collaboration with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In the letter, Tabak said EcoHealth Alliance had violated the terms of its grant by not immediately reporting an unexpected experimental result in which mice became sicker when infected with a modified coronavirus.
Republicans were quick to interpret the letter as an admission that the agency had funded gain-of-function research.
In commentary accompanying the shared letter, the committee said on Twitter that the NIH “confirmed today EcoHealth and the WIV conducted GOF research on bat coronaviruses” and that NIH was “lied to” by EcoHealth.