EcoHealth Alliance, which is responsible for funding the trials in Wuhan that may have caused the virus outbreak, has had its grant from the National Institutes of Health reinstated.
In a Monday press release, EcoHealth explained that the grant had been put on hold because of concerns about collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Funding to the U.S. organization studying bat coronaviruses was reinstated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) three years after it had been suspended at the behest of then-President Donald Trump.
The EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research group in New York City, will receive $576,000 over the course of four years, a significant reduction from the original funding.
Subawards to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China allowed for controversial experiments to be conducted in 2014, including the mixing of components of several bat viruses connected to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that ignited a global outbreak in 2002–2004.
The new award does not include those research and also subjects EcoHealth, which has been criticized by government auditors for its bookkeeping procedures, to stringent new accounting regulations.
In April 2020, the NIH announced that it would no longer be funding the project, and the scientific community responded with widespread outrage. Scientists say that by isolating the function of spike proteins, researchers can learn more about coronaviruses that are difficult to culture in the lab.
After claims that a lab leak at WIV caused the epidemic, Trump demanded its discontinuation in April 2020. Several Republicans in Congress and other critics have stated that this work constitutes harmful “gain-of-function” (GOF) research that increases the threat posed by future pandemic viruses and thus warranted additional scrutiny. Since bat viruses aren’t known to infect humans and WIV has no plans to make them more deadly, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and its director at the time, Anthony Fauci, said that the work did not satisfy NIH’s risky GOF classification.
Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University, deems the restarted award “an outrage.” He said EcoHealth continually violates the requirements of the grant.
The theory that the epidemic originated as the result of a lab leak has acquired support within federal authorities including the Department of Energy and the FBI.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in April that the FBI believes the origins of the pandemic are most likely a lab leak out of Wuhan.