An internal National Institutes of Health (NIH) presentation from June reveals that the agency flagged legislative amendments aimed at defunding gain-of-function research as “amendments to watch” and argued that they were based on “conspiracy theories.”
The Director’s Report presentation, given June 9 at the 124th Advisory Committee to the Director Meeting and unearthed by taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, identifies four amendments to the America Competes Act of 2022 as “amendments to watch.” All four amendments were introduced by Republican lawmakers and attempt to rein in funding for gain-of-function research in adversarial countries and work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“A lot of these have to do with policymakers reacting to many of the controversies, many of the conspiracy theories that swirled during the pandemic,” Adrienne Hallett, NIH Associate Director for Legislative Policy and Analysis, said during the meeting while speaking about the amendments. “There’s a lot of conversation about enhanced pathogens … there’s a lot of conversation about international research, possible restrictions on different kinds of research.”
“There are a lot of permutations of this language that are out there and moving. We’re watching all of it, but I want you to be aware of it,” she continued. “If we get out of this calendar year without some kind of policy being made, next year I think this will come back.”
The NIH has funded, either directly or indirectly, gain-of-function research in the U.S. and abroad dating back a number of years. There was a pause in that funding in place between 2014 and 2017 which was lifted during the Trump administration. In this context, gain-of-function research refers to scientific experimentation that makes pathogens more infectious, more deadly, or both.
Some experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where U.S.-funded gain-of-function research was taking place, as a result of a lab accident. As a result, many Republican lawmakers have called on the NIH to stop funding the dangerous research or have introduced legislation attempting to stop it.
The four amendments flagged by the NIH were introduced by Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup, California Rep. Darrell Issa, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul and Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson. (RELATED: Biden Officials Appeared At Conference Endorsing ‘Natural Origin’ Of COVID)
“Our investigation is uncovering new evidence each day that connects NIH financial sponsorship to risky viral pathogen projects. We’re also seeing NIH’s blatant disregard for research processes that are supposed to mitigate risks that can cause pandemics like COVID-19,” Republican Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall told the Daily Caller. “Responsible efforts underway in Congress are designed to prevent funding for dangerous research that benefits the Chinese Communist Party and protect America’s public health. For the lead NIH Congressional liaison to lash out at these efforts as ‘conspiracy theories’ says to me that NIH leadership is feeling the walls closing in on their negligence. They’re afraid that the money is going to dry up soon and that they’re going to be held accountable for their role in the lab leak that led to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Marshall has been one of several Republicans who have prioritized getting to the bottom of the origins of COVID-19 and cutting government support for gain-of-function research. Another is Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who told the Daily Caller it is “no conspiracy theory that NIH lost track of how taxpayer dollars were being spent on dangerous coronavirus studies in China’s Wuhan Institute.”
“Rather than tracking what is going on in Congress, NIH should focus its attention on following the law and finding out what really happened at the Wuhan Institute,” she said.
Rep. Gallagher: “The fact that we haven’t already outlawed gain-of-function research when we now know about the dangers of it is insane to me.” pic.twitter.com/Xn2ALWmOSy
— Rep. Gallagher Press Office (@RepGallagher) December 12, 2022
White Coat Waste Project has been a consistent advocate against gain-of-function research and other forms of animal testing sanctioned by government agencies. Their senior vice president of advocacy and public policy, Justin Goodman, said it was the NIH that’s actually “spreading misinformation.”
“The NIH’s top white coats are spreading misinformation and circling the wagons because their worst nightmare is coming true: Democrats and Republicans in Congress and taxpayers across the country have united to cut the purse strings on the agency’s wasteful and dangerous spending on animal experiments,” he told the Daily Caller. “We recently worked with lawmakers to pass first-ever bipartisan legislation defunding all animal labs in adversarial nations, the Senate voted unanimously to defund gain-of-function experiments in China, and bipartisan legislation has been introduced to defund all gain-of-function experiments. The NIH is addicted to spending, so the solution is simple: Stop the money. Stop the madness!”
Top NIH officials, including NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, have repeatedly denied that the work the agency has funded in Wuhan qualifies as gain-of-function. But a number of experts, like Rutgers University microbiologist Dr. Richard Ebright, disagree.
“It is a matter of public record, not a ‘conspiracy’ theory,” that the WIV used NIH funding to conduct gain-of-function research between 2014 and 2019, Ebright told the Daily Caller. He also called it a matter of public record, not a conspiracy theory, that the NIH violated their own funding moratorium between 2014 and 2017 by offering those funds.
“Any NIH official who called these demonstrable facts ‘conspiracy theories,’ is defending violations of federal policies that endangered the public and potentially caused the current pandemic, and is impeding efforts to protect the public from future violations,” he said.