Reported by ANDREW KERR, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER | April 05, 2021
Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said it is “very concerning” that the federal infectious disease research organization led by Dr. Anthony Fauci bypassed federal oversight of a grant that funded a lab in Wuhan, China to genetically modify bat-based coronaviruses. Infectious disease experts say the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) grant with the nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance, which involved the transfer of $600,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), described scientists conducting gain-of-function research on SARS-like viruses to make them even more contagious. But a federal oversight board created in 2017 to scrutinize such research was not notified of the grant because the NIAID opted against forwarding it for review, the Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.
“When it comes to oversight of U.S. tax dollars headed to the Chinese Communist Party, Dr. Fauci seems like he’s literally whistling past the graveyard,” Perry told the DCNF.
The WIV is at the center of widespread speculation that COVID-19 could have accidentally leaked from its lab into the human population. A World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the pandemic concluded in late March that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus could have escaped from a lab. But WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said his organization’s assessment of the lab leak theory was not sufficient and that further investigation was necessary.
The Department of Health and Human Service created the Potential Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) review framework in late 2017 following a three-year federal funding moratorium on gain-of-function research. Had the EcoHealth grant been subjected to P3CO review, an HHS panel would have independently evaluated the grant and, if necessary, recommended additional biocontainment measures to prevent potential lab leaks — or even recommended that the grant be denied entirely.
Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard H. Ebright previously told the DCNF that NIAID’s ability to sidestep the P3CO framework is a “systemic problem“. Ebright said the offices of the director for NIAID and the National Institutes of Health have “systematically thwarted — indeed systematically nullified — the HHS P3CO Framework by declining to flag and forward proposals for review.”
EcoHealth president Peter Daszak, who was the only American member of the WHO’s investigation into COVID-19’s origins, spoke about how easy it was to manipulate bat-based coronaviruses during a podcast interview filmed just weeks before the first cases were reported in Wuhan.
An NIH spokesperson previously told the DCNF that NIAID did not flag the EcoHealth grant for independent review because it did not meet the frameworks’ definition of gain-of-function research.
Perry, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the DCNF he will call for Fauci to testify about why his agency did not flag the EcoHealth grant for P3CO review.
“We seem so cavalier about this approval paradigm for this funding and the definitions seemingly allow you to drive a truck through them regarding what is gain-of-function research and what isn’t,” Perry said. “It seems to me this was done by design to allow this kind of research to be done in these kinds of places without any kind of scrutiny. And this is the result of that.”
Perry said there is a great deal of interest among his Republican colleagues to probe the federal government’s funding of gain-of-function research in China, but added he wasn’t optimistic that Democrats, who control the House, would allow such a hearing.
“I won’t be surprised after requesting to bring these folks in as witnesses have an open hearing about it that those things fail to ever occur. I won’t be surprised,” Perry said. “In the minority, we can’t force it. If they’re not going to allow it or to pursue it, then it just won’t happen in the House side.”