US health officials have given a hugely controversial research organization another $650,000 (£580k) grant to experiment on Covid-like viruses – despite fears similar risky work may have actually sparked the pandemic.
EcoHealth Alliance, run by British zoologist Peter Daszak, funded studies in Wuhan – the Chinese city where the pandemic began – on manipulated coronaviruses.
Such research, known as ‘gain of function’, can see viruses deliberately engineered to become more dangerous to humans.
EcoHealth Alliance’s five-year experiment will investigate ‘the potential for future bat coronavirus emergence’ in Asia, with scientists set to trawl caves in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam in the hunt to prevent another viral crisis.
The grant was awarded last month by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is still ran by Dr Anthony Fauci.
Dr Fauci is known to be close to Dr Daszak, who thanked the American Government’s departing chief medical adviser for downplaying theories that Covid may have been created in a lab.
EcoHealth Alliance is said to have received $60million (£53.5m) in federal cash over the past decade. Some of this money was funneled straight to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The boss of EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak, shown here, is known to be close to Dr Anthony Fauci
Previously, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance has used the Wuhan Institute of Virology in research, particularly in gain-of-function research in which organisms are genetically altered
In a leaked email from 2020, Daszak appeared to express gratitude to Fauci for downplaying the theory that the Covid-19 was created in a lab in Wuhan, China
The justification for the grant says that previous research in this field ‘identifies the border region of Southern China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam as a high risk for future emergence of novel coronaviruses and the potential site where SARS-CoV-2 first ‘spilled over’ from bats to people’.
The research will also include testing communities that live in close proximity to wildlife in south east Asia for coronaviruses.
According to the NIH’s website, the research will include supplying ‘viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine development’.
The main aim of the research is described as conducting ‘community-based surveys and biological sampling of people frequently exposed to wildlife in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, to find serological evidence of spillover’.
The other primary aim will include ‘sampling and PCR screening of bats and other wildlife at community surveillance sites’.
The new research may ‘also provide data on wildlife reservoirs and community spillover events of relevance to the origin of COVID-19,’ according to a section of the NIH report.
Another section reads: ‘Finally, we will rapidly supply viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine and therapeutic development.’
The long-term goal of projects such as this one is to help aid global preparedness in case of another global pandemic, the NIH said.
The new study will see Daszak’s outfit investigating bats and other coronaviruses in the wild. It will run until August 2027
Daszak leaves his hotel after the World Health Organization (WHO) team wrapped up its investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on February 10, 2021
Further details of British researcher Daszak’s role in facilitating risky coronavirus research in China were revealed in a report back in April.
They outlined how his EcoHealth Alliance raked in millions in federal grants.
Daszak’s group, which bizarrely evolved from a save-the-manatees non-profit to a top champion of viral gain-of-function research as it chased federal funding, has long been at the center of questions about the origins of Covid.
The lengthy report that was published in Vanity Fair, based on dozens of interviews and more than 100,000 leaked internal documents, detailed how EcoHealth operated in a world of ‘murky grant agreements, flimsy oversight, and the pursuit of government funds for scientific advancement, in part by pitching research of steeply escalating risk’.
The report did not offer conclusive evidence as to whether Covid leaked from the Wuhan lab that worked closely with EcoHealth, or was transmitted to humans by an animal in a ‘natural spillover’ event, as Daszak has long insisted.
But it does outline the lengths to which Daszak – and Dr Fauci, whose agency helped fund his research – went to try to cast doubt on the lab-origin theory and downplay the potential role of risky research that EcoHealth supported in Wuhan.
A researcher swabs a bat’s mouth to take samples at Sai Yok National Park in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand
The Wuhan Institute of Virology kept live bats in cages, footage from inside the facility has revealed
In 2014, the National Institute of Health approved a $3.7million grant to EcoHealth titled Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence, the purpose of which was to create a sort of pandemic early-warning system.
The research involved gathering bat coronaviruses in China and studying them at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), as well as mixing components of SARS-like viruses from different species to create a novel chimera that was able to directly infect human cells.
Allowing such risky research to go forward at the Wuhan lab was ‘simply crazy, in my opinion,’ Jack Nunberg, director of the Montana Biotechnology Center, told Vanity Fair.
‘Reasons are lack of oversight, lack of regulation, the environment in China,’ he said. ‘So that is what really elevates it to the realm of, ‘No, this shouldn’t happen.’
Facing a funding shortfall when certain grants expired, EcoHealth in 2018 submitted an even more ambitious research proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
The plan titled Project DEFUSE involved partnering with WIV to engineer bat coronaviruses to be more deadly, by inserting genetic features that are similar to those found in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid.
Daszak has also been accused of being relentless in his pursuit of obtaining NIH grant money from Fauci for EcoHealth’s research
In their response, DARPA officials slammed the plan as risky for failing to address significant ethical legal and social concerns, refusing to issue the $14.2million grant.
Daszak has also been accused of being relentless in his pursuit of obtaining NIH grant money from Fauci for EcoHealth’s research.
He would invite Fauci to EcoHealth events that were described on invitations as ‘educational’ despite the fact that nonprofit officials referred to them as ‘cultivation events’ in which they should network with ‘prospective federal funders’.
The group would spend approximately $8,000 on each ‘cultivation’ event.
‘These kinds of events are common among many nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits, which depend upon both public and private donors for support,’ Daszak told the magazine, defending the parties.
Daszak also repeatedly lauded Fauci, requesting he serve as a ‘panel speaker’ at select EcoHealth events.
In April 2020, Daszak came under scrutiny in April 2020 when theories about the origin of COVID surfaced.
A reporter asked then-President Donald Trump during a Covid press briefing why the U.S. government would support a $3.7million grant to a Chinese lab.
‘We will end that grant very quickly,’ Trump replied, prompting a follow-up question, from another reporter, directed at Fauci about whether a lab could be responsibly for Covid.
Dr Fauci, answered, alleging a ‘group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists’ determined the virus was ‘totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.’
The next day, Daszak reportedly emailed Dr Fauci to thank him for ‘publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for Covid from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology’.
Dr Fauci reportedly thanked the scientist back.