N.I.H. Says Bat Analysis Group Didn’t Submit Immediate Virus Findings

The Nationwide Institutes of Well being stated on Wednesday {that a} nonprofit group underneath hearth from some congressional Republicans for its analysis collaborations in China had did not promptly report findings from research on how effectively bat coronaviruses develop in mice.

In a letter to Consultant James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, the N.I.H. stated that the group, EcoHealth Alliance, had 5 days to submit all unpublished knowledge from work carried out underneath a multiyear grant it was given in 2014 for the analysis. The group’s grant was canceled in 2020 underneath President Trump’s administration throughout his feud with China over the origins of the coronavirus.

In current months, N.I.H. officers have rejected claims — typically in heated exchanges with congressional Republicans — that coronaviruses studied with federal funding might need produced the pandemic. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the N.I.H., launched a press release Wednesday evening reiterating that rebuttal.

“Naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied underneath the N.I.H. grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and couldn’t presumably have triggered the Covid-19 pandemic,” he stated within the assertion. “Any claims on the contrary are demonstrably false.”

EcoHealth Alliance has come underneath scrutiny due to its collaboration on coronavirus analysis with researchers on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located within the metropolis the place the pandemic started.

Robert Kessler, a spokesman for the group, stated on Thursday that EcoHealth Alliance was making an attempt to resolve what it described as a “false impression” about its findings with the N.I.H. He stated that the group had reported knowledge from its research “as quickly as we have been made conscious” in April 2018, and that the company had reviewed the information and by no means indicated that additional evaluations have been wanted.Some scientists have argued that it’s doable SARS-CoV-2 was the results of genetic engineering experiments or just escaped from a lab in an accident. However direct proof for these theories has but to emerge. Others have deemed those scenarios unlikely, pointing instead to many lines of evidence suggesting that people acquired the coronavirus in a natural spillover from bats or an intermediate mammal host.

The controversy has drawn scrutiny to the experiments that EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology carried out with funding from the N.I.H.

Dr. Lawrence Tabak, the principal deputy director of the N.I.H., wrote in the letter to Representative Comer that the agency determined that the research proposed by EcoHealth Alliance did not meet the criteria for additional review under that framework “because these bat coronaviruses had not been shown to infect humans.”

But, “out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Tabak wrote, the agency had added requirements for EcoHealth Alliance to notify it of certain results of the experiments.

Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who has called for more research into the origins of the pandemic, said the revelations raised serious questions about the risks of investigating viruses originating from animals, known as zoonotic viruses.

“In my view, some of this research on potential pandemic pathogens poses unacceptable risks,” he said. “In addition to asking if EcoHealth adhered to current regulations, we need to honestly ask what research should be done in the future to best minimize both zoonotic and lab-associated pandemic risks.”

And Michael Imperiale, a virologist at the University of Michigan, said that the N.I.H. letter raised questions about how the agency evaluated potentially dangerous research and shared it with the public — a need that critics have been pointing out for years. “First and foremost, I think this re-emphasizes the need for transparency in how the N.I.H. reviews these experiments,” he said.

Some congressional Republicans have pushed for more information for months, suggesting the research was the source of the pandemic. In a statement, Representative Comer claimed that “thanks to the hard work of the Oversight Committee Republicans, we now know that American taxpayer dollars funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.”

Dr. Tabak’s letter did not include any mention of “gain-of-function” research.

Representative Comer also accused Dr. Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, of potentially misleading the committee, vowing that the G.O.P. panel “will leave no stone unturned as we seek the truth for the American people about how their taxpayer dollars may have been associated with the start of this pandemic.”

Ms. Myles dismissed the claim that EcoHealth’s experiments constituted gain-of-function research. She acknowledged that the findings in mice were “somewhat unexpected.” But Ms. Myles said the agency had reviewed the research described in EcoHealth’s progress report, and said it would not have triggered a review under the stricter protocols for P3CO studies.

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