Two House Republican leaders launched a congressional inquiry into the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) failure to review grants of American tax dollars funding potential gain of function (GOF) research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) pressed HHS Senior Science Adviser David Hassell in a letter to answer questions surrounding the reason his agency failed to conduct oversight for the $600,000 annual five-year grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology conducting bat coronavirus research from 2014 to 2019.
Hassell leads HHS’s Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight review committee (P3CO), which was formed in 2017 to conduct oversight of GOF-type research.
GOF research involves increasing the lethal level [virulence] or transmissibility of pathogens in order to better understand and predict the emergence of disease-causing agents so that a solution can be devised before the disease emerges as a pandemic.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in December 2017 that it would lift a funding pause dating back to October 2014 on GOF experiments involving influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses. They lifted the funding pause because of the creation of Hassell’s committee, the P3CO.
“Because you chair the group within the HHS responsible for reviewing funding decisions for research involving deadly pathogens, we request your assistance in better understanding how U.S. taxpayer dollars could fund dangerous research at an unsafe Chinese laboratory,” the GOP House members wrote.
The Director of NIH described Hassell’s P3CO committee in a 2017 written statement.
“The HHS P3CO Framework describes a multi-disciplinary review process, involving the funding agency and a Department-level review group, that considers the scientific merits and potential benefits of the research, as well as the potential to create, transfer, or use an enhanced potential pandemic pathogen. This framework formalizes robust oversight for federally funded research with enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential,” wrote NIH Director Francis S. Collins in 2017.
Jordan and Gallagher note that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s department (the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases under the NID) awarded grants close to $600,000 per year to EcoHealth Alliance Inc. to study Chinese bat coronavirus.
“There is mounting evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology with research on bat coronaviruses partially funded by EcoHealth’s grant,” wrote the lawmakers.
Hassell’s office at HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawmakers’ letter and inquiry.
Fauci has repeatedly denied funding GOF research at the lab in Wuhan. However, documents show the annual $600,000 grant given to the EcoHealth Alliance was channeled to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to research coronavirus in bats in 2014.
“The sub-grant was about $600,000 over a period of five years. So, it was a modest amount. And the purpose of it was to study the animal-human interface, to do surveillance, and to determine if these bat viruses were even capable of transmitting infection to humans,” Fauci recently told members of Congress.
“Although Dr. Fauci and NIH allege that EcoHealth’s research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was not gain of function research, and therefore not subject to the P3CO review, other scientists disagree,” wrote the members of Congress in the new letter.
The congressmen also want Hassell to answer a series of questions regarding the lack of oversight for the funding Fauci authorized:
“Do you believe that the NIAID should have flagged the EcoHealth grants involving research about bat coronaviruses for review by the P3CO?
“Do you have any reason to believe that U.S. taxpayer dollars have funded any other research into enhanced PPPs [potential pandemic pathogens] without review by the P3CO since 2017?”