Newly released documents appear to contradict Dr. Anthony Fauci’s repeated claims that the NIH did not fund gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
The internal documents detail the work of EcoHealth Alliance, an American research non-profit which used NIH funding to research novel bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab. Among the documents, which were obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request, is a previously unpublished EcoHealth Alliance grant proposal filed with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which is run by Fauci.
The proposal requests $3.1 million for a project titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” which involved screening thousands of lab workers for novel bat coronaviruses. The grant was awarded for five years, from 2014 to 2019, and was subsequently renewed before being suspended by the Trump administration. The proposal directs $599,000 of the total grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for research designed to make the viruses more dangerous and/or infectious — and its author acknowledged the danger associated with such work.
“Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled,” it read.
After reviewing the documents, Gary Ruskin, executive director of a group probing COVID’s origins called U.S. Right to Know, told the Intercept that the grant was a “road map to the high-risk research that could have led to the current pandemic.”
Fauci has repeatedly insisted during his Senate testimony that the research being funded by the NIH at the WIV did not qualify as “gain-of-function” under the NIH’s current definition. But critics, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, have accused Fauci of playing semantic games by excluding research which makes bat coronaviruses more transmissible — the commonly accepted definition of “gain-of-function” — from his more convenient definition.
Dr. Richard Ebright, biosafety expert and professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, has also disputed Fauci’s claims. Primarily, he has rebutted Fauci’s chief declaration that the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV]” as “demonstrably false.”
Ebright told National Review that the NIH-financed work at the WIV “epitomizes” the definition of gain-of-function research, which involves working with “enhanced potential pandemic pathogen (PPP)” or those pathogens “resulting from the enhancement of the transmissibility and/or virulence of a pathogen.”
The Wuhan lab’s program qualified as gain-of-function research because it artificially engineered novel SARS-related coronaviruses to make them more transmissible and dangerous to humans, the breeding ground for accident, Ebright said.
Following the FOIA release secured by the Intercept, Ebright doubled down on his repudiation of Fauci, confirming that the NIH did conduct gain-of-function research during the five-year period in question.
“The materials show that the 2014 and 2019 NIH grants to EcoHealth with subcontracts to WIV funded gain-of-function research as defined in federal policies in effect in 2014-2017 and potential pandemic pathogen enhancement as defined in federal policies in effect in 2017-present,” Ebright tweeted.
He added that the “documents make it clear that assertions by the NIH Director, Francis Collins, and the NIAID Director, Anthony Fauci, that the NIH did not support gain-of-function research or potential pandemic pathogen enhancement at WIV are untruthful.”
As evidence mounts in favor of Ebright’s conclusion, further discrediting Fauci, some Republican lawmakers have called for the doctor’s removal from his post in the Biden administration. Shortly after the FOIA disclosure, GOP Senator Josh Hawley demanded that Fauci step down and be subject to a congressional investigation for lying to the public about the NIH’s activities.
“Anthony Fauci has repeatedly and deliberately mislead Congress and the American people. Resign. And face a congressional inquiry,” he tweeted.