Feds suspend money for Wuhan Institute of Virology funder EcoHealth Alliance, propose ban

"NIH’s conclusion that WIV research likely violated protocols of the NIH regarding biosafety is undisputed," HHS says. COVID subcommittee chair emphasizes its own investigation "far from over."

Published: May 15, 2024 1:05pm

Updated: May 15, 2024 1:16pm

The Department of Health and Human Services has notified the EcoHealth Alliance, which passed through U.S. taxpayer funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a possible source of COVID-19, that its funding had been suspended and HHS had proposed to ban it permanently for failure to disclose an experiment that "possibly" made a virus more dangerous.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisitions Henrietta Brisbon laid out 30 documents as the basis for the suspension and proposed debarment in a letter to EcoHealth President Peter Daszak, and associated "action referral memorandum," made public Monday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The nonprofit violated a provision against committing a "cause of so serious or compelling a nature that it affects your present responsibility," justifying "immediate action" by HHS, Brisbon wrote. 

"As established in the record," the National Institutes of Health determined based on EcoHealth's year-five Research Performance Progress Report, which was submitted "more than two years late," that a WIV experiment "possibly yielded a greater than 1 log increase in viral activity, in violation of the terms of the grant," Brisbon said.

To assuage NIH's concerns that it was funding gain-of-function research, EcoHealth had pledged to "immediately stop all experiments with the mutant."

The group also vowed to tell NIH if its "MERS and MERS-like chimeric" coronaviruses showed "any pathogenic potential" through "evidence of enhanced virus growth greater than certain specified benchmarks involving log growth increases, or grow more efficiently in human airway epithelial cells," the memo says.

"The NIH gave EHA and WIV several opportunities to disprove this finding, but EHA and WIV failed to do so, making "NIH’s conclusion that WIV research likely violated protocols of the NIH regarding biosafety ... undisputed," it says.

Select Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup crowed about the decision.

"Only two weeks after the Select Subcommittee released an extensive report detailing EcoHealth’s wrongdoing and recommending the formal debarment of EcoHealth and its president, HHS has begun efforts to cut off all U.S. funding to this corrupt organization," The Ohio Republican said in a press release.

Wenstrup said the subcommittee's investigation was "far from over" and that EcoHealth and Daszak must produce "all outstanding documents and answer the Select Subcommittee’s questions, specifically related to Dr. Daszak’s potential dishonesty under oath."

EcoHealth has not said whether it will appeal the decision, a process laid forth in the HHS letter.

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