US National Institutes of Health Ending Subaward for Lab in Wuhan, China

US National Institutes of Health Ending Subaward for Lab in Wuhan, China
The P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, on April 17, 2020. (AFP via Getty Images/Hector Retamal)oratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology is designated to be at the highest level of biological safety in Wuhan on April 17, 2020. (AFP via Getty Images/Hector Retamal)
Zachary Stieber

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has ended a subgrant to the laboratory in China located where the first COVID-19 cases were identified in 2019.

Starting in 2014, U.S.-based EcoHealth Alliance was granted $3.7 million to study bat-related coronaviruses. It conveyed some of the money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located in China.

The grant was renewed in 2019, but suspended in 2020 because of concerns that the grantees were failing to comply with the conditions attached to the money.

The NIH's review of the concerns has concluded, Dr. Michael Lauer, an NIH deputy director, revealed in an Aug. 19 letter. It determined that all of the problems can't be fixed.

Therefore, the NIH informed EcoHealth Alliance that the subaward to the WIV is terminated "for failure to meet award terms and conditions requiring provision of records to NIH upon request," Lauer wrote to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee.

'Cannot Be Remedied'

Grants from the U.S. government come with certain conditions, including timely reporting of results and adequate monitoring of experiments.
EcoHealth Alliance failed to perform a review of the research conducted under the grant, which included making bat coronaviruses more dangerous, the NIH said in October 2021. In January, the agency stated that EcoHealth Alliance failed to comply with other conditions with the grant, R01AI110964, and other awards.

The NIH asked for plans to correct the failures, which were provided on Feb. 4, Lauer said on Aug. 19, and the NIH determined that the plans were sufficient.

Separately, however, the NIH asked EcoHealth in late 2021 and again in January for lab notebooks and original files from the research conducted at the Wuhan lab. It hasn't received them, according to the new letter.

EcoHealth executives have said that they passed along the request but haven't heard back from the WIV.

The refusal to provide the materials led to the just-announced termination of the subaward.

"NIH has determined that WIV’s refusal to provide the requested records, and EHA’s failure to include the required terms in WIV’s subaward agreement represent material failures to comply with the terms of award," Lauer told Drs. Aleksei Chmura and Peter Daszak, the executives, in a letter released on Aug. 19 by Comer. "NIH has further determined that in these circumstances, WIV’s refusal to provide records cannot be remedied by imposing additional conditions, and that a partial termination of award (i.e., termination of the subaward to WIV) is the only appropriate action."
EcoHealth didn't respond to requests for comment. An email sent to the Wuhan lab bounced back.

Will Keep Funding EcoHealth

The NIH isn't terminating any of the awards in question, R01AI110964, 1U01AI151797-01, and 1U01AI153420-01—at least for now.

When grantees aren't compliant with requirements, the preference is to work with them to bring them into compliance rather than termination, Lauer said.

EcoHealth has successfully implemented the NIH-approved corrective plans for the latter two awards, according to the NIH. While EcoHealth will be forbidden to dole money out to WIV under the other grant, it will be able to renegotiate the objectives of the grant with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

If an agreement is reached, the revised grant will move forward. If it isn't, the grant may be terminated.

EcoHealth was asked to outline within 30 days how it will accomplish the purpose of the grant without the WIV. That will require a change in scope, but the change may not depart significantly from the original project, Lauer said.

Comer said the NIH should have ended the award entirely.

“Terminating EcoHealth Alliance’s partnership with the Wuhan Lab is the bare minimum. It’s unacceptable that the NIH continues to allow EcoHealth Alliance to receive taxpayer dollars even though it is confirmed EcoHealth violated the terms of its grant contract," he said.

"EcoHealth’s dangerous experiments in Wuhan and possible efforts to cover up any evidence may have started the pandemic. EcoHealth should not receive a penny of American taxpayer dollars for their gross mismanagement of Americans’ hard-earned money."