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Dr. Roger Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University and biosafety expert, is contesting NIH director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Tuesday.
Dr. Fauci’s claim — made during an exchange with Senator Rand Paul — that “the NIH [National Institutes of Health] has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV]” is “demonstrably false,” according to Ebright.
At least some of the NIH-funded research conducted at the WIV “unequivocally” qualifies as gain-of-function, Ebright told National Review.
A research article written by WIV scientists, “Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus”, for example, qualifies as gain-of-function and was clearly a product of NIH-funding.
Ebright insists that the research can be classified as gain-of-function under a number of different definitions, including those found in two pieces of Department of Health and Human Services guidance on the subject.
The first details the Obama administration’s 2014 decision to halt domestic gain-of-function research, which it defines as that which “may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.”
The second — drafted in 2017 as Fauci was pushing to renew government funding for gain-of-function research — provides a definition of what are called “enhanced potential pandemic pathogen (PPP)” or those pathogens “resulting from the enhancement of the transmissibility and/or virulence of a pathogen.”
Ebright claims that the work being conducted at the WIV, using NIH funds originally granted to Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, “epitomizes” gain-of-function research under the definition HHS provided in its guidance, and is the exact kind of research that led the Obama administration to conclude that gain-of-function was too dangerous to continue domestically.
‘The Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses able to infect human cells and laboratory animals,” he said. “This is high-risk research that creates new potential pandemic pathogens (i.e., potential pandemic pathogens that exist only in a lab, not in nature). This research matches — indeed epitomizes — the definition of ‘gain of function research of concern’ for which federal funding was ‘paused’ in 2014-2017.”
“Chimeric” coronaviruses refers to those that have been altered and enhanced by man, in this case in such a way as to make them more transmissible and dangerous to humans.
The paper drafted by WIV scientists clearly states that the underlying research was funded by, among other entities, the National Institutes of Health. The NIH’s own database of grantees lists this research and confirms that over $660,000 was spent supporting it.
Fauci appears to have been, at best, mistaken while sparring with Senator Paul on Tuesday. At worst, he was playing tenuous word games meant to deceive.