Scott wrote this morning about documents that the Intercept has obtained under the Freedom of Information Act relating to NIH funding of coronavirus research in Wuhan, China. These documents relate to two grants that the NIH gave to Ecohealth Alliance, which in turn collaborated on the Chinese research. They have been hailed by many as conclusive proof that Dr. Fauci has lied about NIH supporting gain of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
These materials relate to two grants to Ecohealth Alliance, but the second wasn’t approved until August 2020 and can’t be very relevant. It is the first grant, approved in 2014, that deserves attention. It is titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” and obviously has potential relevance to the COVID-19 epidemic.
But does it prove that NIH funded gain of function research in coronaviruses? The Notice of Award itself specifically says that gain of function research is prohibited:
The Notice also implies that “enhanced virus growth” was possible, in which case experiments were to cease and NIH was to be put on notice. But all of this reads like boilerplate.
The original Notice of Grant is dated May 2014, and the second or renewal grant, which includes the ban on gain of function research, is dated May 2017. It was in December 2017 that NIH, at the instance of Dr. Fauci, changed its policy and resumed funding gain of function research. Work under this grant apparently continued into 2019, so one might speculate that the ban on gain of function research could have been relaxed at some point. But, based on my admittedly incomplete review, I have not seen any indication of this.
Does the research covered by this grant involve activities that would change the DNA of a coronavirus? This is the summary of the project:
The main expert who has proclaimed these documents a smoking gun is Dr. Richard Ebright. He laid out his views in a Twitter thread. Some relevant language:
The materials confirm the grants supported the construction–in Wuhan–of novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses that combined a spike gene from one coronavirus with genetic information from another coronavirus, and confirmed the resulting viruses could infect human cells.
The materials reveal that the resulting novel, laboratory-generated SARS-related coronaviruses also could infect mice engineered to display human receptors on cells (“humanized mice”).
The materials further reveal for the first time that one of the resulting novel, laboratory-generated SARS-related coronaviruses–one not been previously disclosed publicly–was more pathogenic to humanized mice than the starting virus from which it was constructed…
…and thus not only was reasonably anticipated to exhibit enhanced pathogenicity, but, indeed, was *demonstrated* to exhibit enhanced pathogenicity.
The materials further reveal that the the grants also supported the construction–in Wuhan–of novel chimeric MERS-related coronaviruses that combined spike genes from one MERS-related coronavirus with genetic information from another MERS-related coronavirus.
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.
Ebright refers particularly to the progress report on the 2014 grant. This may be some of what he has in mind:
Whether this, or other language in the grant documents, shows gain of function research is far beyond my technical knowledge. Here, though, is the main point I want to make, after a rather long windup: we already have clear evidence that the NIH funded gain of function research in Wuhan, contrary to assurances from Dr. Fauci and others. That was made clear by the report from which Senator Rand Paul read in this exchange with Fauci. Fauci did not deny that the NIH, under his direction, funded research that took viruses that were only transmissible between animals and made them transmissible to humans. Fauci only alleged that, according to some tortured definition of the term, such research was not “gain of function.” But that linguistic point is moot: taking a bat virus and modifying it so that humans can catch it is precisely the sort of dangerous research against which experts (other than Fauci) have warned for many years. And Fauci does not deny that this was done under his auspices at NIH.
In short, whatever experts ultimately derive from the documents most recently made public will only be icing on the cake.
Of course, none of this proves, one way or the other, whether the COVID-19 virus mutated naturally or was modified in a laboratory.