Millions of federal dollars have continued flowing into EcoHealth Alliance, the New York-based nonprofit under heavy scrutiny for its role in funneling public money to a key laboratory in China for bat coronavirus research that many believe may have caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Sept. 21, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued three grants to EcoHealth to fund its Asia-based research into viruses that have the potential to infect humans and spark an outbreak, government records show. At a total of $2.76 million, the funding marks an increase of nearly $700,000 from the amount awarded in 2021, and is the largest sum the organization has received from the NIH in a single year.
The grants—two of which have received NIH funding for three consecutive years—came amid mounting congressional scrutiny over EcoHealth’s years-long partnership with the Wuhan lab that has been at the center of a lab-leak theory on the origins of COVID-19.
That EcoHealth has funded risky research by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) means that U.S. authorities should cease funding the organization altogether, some critics argue.
Controversial Grant to Wuhan LabThe NIH in July 2020 suspended a multi-year grant worth $3.7 million to EcoHealth to study bat coronaviruses in China in collaboration with WIV, over concerns the grantees weren't complying with the grant terms. Experts previously told The Epoch Times that the experiments conducted in the grant met the definition of gain-of-function—research that increases the transmissibility or pathogenicity of a virus.
The NIH has denied that characterization.
Benefits of New Grant QuestionedThe NIH didn’t return repeated queries from The Epoch Times to clarify the terms of the September grants, but the new grant, with the project number 1R01AI163118-01A1, appears to be the revised grant that excludes the participation of WIV.
Titled “Analyzing the Potential for Future Bat Coronavirus Emergence in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam,” the five-year project led by Daszak will focus on three southeastern Asian countries neighboring China, with a goal to “analyze the behavioral and environmental risk factors for spillover of novel CoVs [coronaviruses], identify wildlife-to-human spillover events, assess the risk and drivers of community transmission and spread, and test potential public health interventions to disrupt spillover and spread,” according to a project summary published on the NIH website.
Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University who’s raised concerns about the government’s approach to sponsoring risky research, reviewed the project summary and concluded that the research didn't involve gain-of-function experiments. But he noted that a risk-benefit analysis of the project that seeks to discover new bat viruses looks “highly unfavorable.”
“With respect to benefits, the research has no—zero—civilian applications,” Ebright told The Epoch Times in an email, adding that the “only practical applications of the research are biodefense applications (i.e., discovery and threat assessment of new bioweapons agents).”
On the other hand, “by collecting novel potential pandemic pathogens in remote locations and transporting them to laboratories in human population centers, the research poses high risks of triggering new pandemics,” he said.
“In conjunction with EcoHealth's documented track record of inadequate biosafety precautions and reckless procedures during field collection and laboratory research, the risks should be deemed not only as high but as extremely high,” he said.
OutcryAccording to Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), the NIH’s decision to continue funding EcoHealth is inexcusable.
“EcoHealth and NIH are operating in tandem to proliferate risky research with deadly pathogens out of the reach of U.S. oversight. It is inexcusable that NIH chooses to extend unprecedented power and funding to Peter Daszak’s noncompliant organization and ignore their own policy of holding the principal investigator accountable for the misconduct of its sub-awardee, the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Marshall said.
“Continuing to invest public funds in a company as shady as EcoHealth is dangerous and irresponsible.”
EcoHealth is the recipient of dozens of federal grants since 2002. Among these, 13 are still active, the U.S. grant database indicates. The largest single grant came from the U.S. Agency for International Development at $4.7 million, a five-year award given in 2021. Besides NIH, other grantors were the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the National Science Foundation.
Republicans on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce who have been probing EcoHealth's activities also expressed outrage at the continuing funding.
“EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak should not be getting a dime of taxpayer funds until they are completely transparent to the Energy and Commerce Committee and the American people. Period,” Jack Heretik, spokesman for Energy and Commerce Republicans, told The Epoch Times in an email.
Such spending of taxpayer money is counterintuitive, said Justin Goodman, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at White Coat Waste Project, which has been probing EcoHealth and WIV’s research.
“EcoHealth Alliance’s animal experiments should be de-funded, not re-funded,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.
“This shady group funneled US tax dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for dangerous animal experiments that likely caused the pandemic, skirted a federal ban on gain-of-function research, repeatedly violated transparency law, and obstructed investigations into COVID’s origins. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund this reckless rogue lab contractor any longer.”
EcoHealth and NIH didn't respond to inquiries from The Epoch Times regarding criticism directed at the new grants.