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NIH Resumes Funding for Risky Coronavirus Research


By: Adam Andrzejewski

The National Institutes of Health has resumed funding for experiments on bat coronaviruses, after pausing similar grants immediately after Covid-19 broke out. EcoHealth Alliance will now receive $2.3 million over 4 years to study these dangerous viruses.

The New York City-based nonprofit research organization has been performing this controversial taxpayer funded research for years, with experiments that “mixed parts of different bat viruses related to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the coronavirus that sparked a global outbreak in 2002–2004” dating back to 2014, according to American Association for the Advancement of Science.

They described it as “a stripped-down version of the original grant” — it won’t involve studies of hybrid coronaviruses.

Subawards from EcoHealth have also gone to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a possible location from where Covid-19 escaped.

Other controversial research from EcoHealth includes a 2019 grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology where researchers “attached the spike protein of various wild bat coronaviruses to a different virus ‘backbone’ in order to gauge the wild pathogens’ potential to infect human airway cells.”

Nature Magazine reports the new grant will come with some stipulations. The organization can’t perform any of this research in China or collect new live samples from vertebrates — such as bats. It also can’t enhance the virulence or transmission of a virus, a practice known as “gain of function” research.

The tighter restrictions come as EcoHealth was found to have misreported $90,000 of expenses, Nature.com reported, though it might not have made much of a difference considering the NIH’s poor track record of oversight. This column reported in April that the NIH ignored basic oversight on $2.2 billion worth of experimental grants to foreign countries.

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