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.
'Cannot Be Remedied'Grants from the U.S. government come with certain conditions, including timely reporting of results and adequate monitoring of experiments.
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.
Will Keep Funding EcoHealthThe 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."