In a newly resurfaced paper from 2012, Dr. Anthony Fauci argued that the benefits of gain-of-function research are worth the increased risk of a potential pandemic-causing lab accident.
The Weekend Australian unearthed a paper Fauci wrote for the American Society for Microbiology in October 2012 in which he argued in support of gain-of-function research. Such research involves making viruses more infectious and/or deadly. Experts have raised the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic could have originated from a potential lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, where gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses have been conducted.
Despite the risks involved, Fauci called gain-of-function experiments “important work” in his 2012 writing:
In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic? Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?
Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks. It is more likely that a pandemic would occur in nature, and the need to stay ahead of such a threat is a primary reason for performing an experiment that might appear to be risky.
Within the research community, many have expressed concern that important research progress could come to a halt just because of the fear that someone, somewhere, might attempt to replicate these experiments sloppily. This is a valid concern.
The Weekend Australian report adds that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not alert senior White House officials before lifting a ban on gain-of-function research in 2017.
In 2014, the Obama administration paused funding for gain-of-function experiments in 22 fields, including those involving SARS, influenza and MERS because of the increased risk such experimentation carries of causing a pandemic. In 2012, when Fauci authored the paper supporting gain-of-function research, there was a voluntary ban on such experiments related to highly infectious influenza viruses.
Yet the EcoHealth Alliance diverted $600,000 in grants from the NIH to the WIV in the form of sub-grants from 2014 through 2019, for the purpose of studying bat coronaviruses.
The U.S. government has reportedly assessed that the WIV was conducting gain-of-function research in some form, according to a March Politico excerpt of Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin’s book on the subject. Jamie Metzl, an expert on gene editing for the World Health Organization, has also said that the WIV performed gain-of-function research.
Fauci maintains that no U.S. funding that went to the WIV was directed toward gain-of-function research, but he conceded during congressional testimony this week that it is impossible to guarantee that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology did not use American funds to perform gain-of-function research on coronaviruses.
Fauci wrote in 2012 that virologists needed to respect “that there are genuine and legitimate concerns about this type of research, both domestically and globally.”
Meanwhile, President Biden on Wednesday said that as U.S. intelligence officials have “coalesced around two likely scenarios” for how COVID-19 originated, he has tasked the intelligence community with redoubling their investigative efforts to bring the U.S. closer to a “definitive conclusion” within 90 days.
He said he had his national security advisor direct the intelligence community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19 in March, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.”