ANALYSIS: Why Was EcoHealth Alliance’s Grant Reinstated Despite Group’s Apparent Failure to Comply With NIH Conditions?

By Hans Mahncke
Hans Mahncke
Hans Mahncke
Hans Mahncke is a co-host of “Truth Over News” on EpochTV.
May 11, 2023Updated: May 11, 2023

News analysis

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reinstated a grant that had been terminated by President Donald Trump in April 2020. However, a document first obtained by the House Oversight Committee reveals that the NIH’s conditions for reinstatement have not been met.

The grant, titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” was originally awarded in 2014 by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Under the terms of the grant, EcoHealth Alliance, a government-funded nonprofit that purportedly engages in research to prevent pandemics, was awarded $3.8 million over five years to assess the spillover potential of bat viruses “using reverse genetics, pseudovirus and receptor binding assays, and virus infection experiments in cell culture and humanized mice.” Put in simple terms, NIAID was paying EcoHealth to genetically engineer and manipulate bat viruses in labs.

In May 2016, the grant was suspended after Erik Stemmy, a NIAID program officer, noticed that federal government funds may have been used for prohibited gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China. At the time, the Obama administration had put in place a moratorium on gain-of-function experiments. However, for reasons that remain unclear, the suspension was lifted in July 2016. At the time, EcoHealth’s president, Peter Daszak, thanked NIAID in an email for lifting the gain-of-function funding pause.

As part of the conditions of the grant, EcoHealth had to file regular activity reports. However, starting in 2018, EcoHealth stopped submitting these reports. EcoHealth would later blame technical difficulties for their failure to submit. The missing reports comprised the critical 2018–2019 timeframe right before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan.

Despite EcoHealth’s delinquency in filing the status reports, NIAID did not stop funding the project. It was only after a Freedom of Information Act request for the reports was filed in 2021 that EcoHealth was prompted by NIAID to provide the reports. The reports, which were finally submitted by EcoHealth at least two years too late, in 2021, revealed that the NIAID grant had been used by EcoHealth and the WIV in part to create laboratory-engineered bat viruses. Had this fact been reported in a timely manner, the experiments would likely have been shut down by NIAID.

When the connections between the WIV and NIAID’s grant became known in April 2020, Trump terminated the grant. Trump’s decision caused an outcry among the media and his critics. However, the NIH, which is NIAID’s parent body, appears to have been well aware that Trump’s actions were merited.

On July 8, 2020, Michael Lauer, the NIH’s deputy director for extramural research who was in charge of “ensuring scientific integrity, public accountability, and effective stewardship of the NIH extramural research portfolio,” wrote a letter to EcoHealth, listing seven demands that needed to be fulfilled as a condition for reinstatement of the grant.

NIH Issued 7 Demands

First, EcoHealth needed to provide a sample of the COVID-19 virus which it used to determine the virus’ genetic sequence. The ostensible purpose of this demand was to compare this original sample with other samples in order to assess when it first emerged.

Second, EcoHealth was required to “explain the apparent disappearance of Huang Yanling, a scientist / technician who worked in the WIV lab but whose lab web presence has been deleted.” Huang Yanling has long been thought to be patient zero. Her profile was scrubbed from the WIV’s website shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019 and she has not been seen since.

Epoch Times Photo
NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci listens to President Joe Biden (out of frame) speak during a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 11, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Third, EcoHealth was asked to share the “WIV’s responses to the 2018 U.S. Department of State cables regarding safety concerns.” These cables had warned of a “serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate” the WIV’s high-level containment laboratories. They also warned that the National Health and Family Planning Commission, a state agency of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had denied a request to conduct coronavirus experiments at biosafety level 4. The actual experiments were carried out in low biosafety level 2 facilities.

Fourth, EcoHealth was required to “disclose and explain out-of-ordinary restrictions on laboratory facilities, as suggested, for example, by diminished cell-phone traffic in October 2019, and the evidence that there may have been roadblocks surrounding the facility from October 14-19, 2019.”

Fifth, the NIH demanded that EcoHealth “explain why WIV failed to note that the RaTG13 virus, the bat-derived coronavirus in its collection with the greatest similarity to SARS-CoV-2, was actually isolated from an abandoned mine where three men died in 2012 with an illness remarkably similar to COVID-19, and explain why this was not followed up.”

Sixth, EcoHealth was required to “arrange for WIV to submit to an outside inspection team charged to review the lab facilities and lab records, with specific attention to addressing the question of whether WIV staff had SARS-CoV-2 in their possession prior to December 2019.” The independent inspection team needed to “be granted full access to review the processes and safety of procedures of all of the WIV field work.”

Seventh, and lastly, EcoHealth had to stipulate to properly and fully report all its subawards in the Federal Subaward Reporting System.

EcoHealth Rejected NIH’s Demands

The list of demands issued by the NIH is notable in that it suggests that NIH officials were well aware of the possibility that COVID-19 had emerged from the WIV. This awareness stands in stark contrast to public pronouncements in 2020 from NIH leaders such as Francis Collins and Fauci.

The demands themselves are remarkably onerous—in particular, the requirement for an independent inspection of the WIV to ascertain when it came into possession of COVID-19.

It would have been known to NIH leaders such as Lauer that EcoHealth would likely not comply and that, in any case, compliance required cooperation from CCP officials, which would not be forthcoming. With no prospects for compliance, it would have been understood at the time that the list of demands had the purpose and effect of permanently suspending the grant.

Epoch Times Photo
The P4 laboratory on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on May 13, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, EcoHealth hired counsel who informed the NIH in August 2020 that EcoHealth refused to answer any of the questions posed. However, shortly after NIH was informed of EcoHealth’s non-compliance, Fauci awarded EcoHealth a fresh grant totaling $7.5 million, more than double the previous grant that Trump had revoked.

There is no indication that EcoHealth changed its course and no indication that any of NIH’s demands were met. NIAID did not respond to an Epoch Times inquiry as to whether EcoHealth had complied with the list of requirements.

Yet, despite EcoHealth’s apparent failure to comply with the NIH’s list of demands, its grant has now been reinstated. The unanswered question is why?

The other question is why House Republicans have not addressed this issue. For instance, Erik Stemmy, the NIAID official who initially suspended EcoHealth’s grant could have been subpoenaed to explain why the grant was reinstated in 2016 despite funds having been used for prohibited gain-of-function work. Lauer could have been subpoenaed to explain why EcoHealth’s grant was again reinstated in 2023 despite the NIH’s specific requirements regarding the WIV not having been met.

As for EcoHealth, the group has issued a celebratory statement, announcing that NIH reversed itself and reinstated the grant that Trump had terminated. Notably, it concedes that “due to concerns about continuing collaborative laboratory research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” the reinstated grant would not be used for “on-the-ground work in China,” nor for “recombinant virus culture or infection experiments.”