Despite repeated denials that any American taxpayer money funded gain-of-function research for months, the National Institutes of Health is now admitting that a "limited experiment" was conducted. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – who grilled Dr. Anthony Fauci about gain-of-function research multiple times – took a victory lap following the admission by the NIH.
Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak – the principal deputy director of the NIH and the deputy ethics counselor of the agency – issued a letter admitting that his health agency funded a "limited experiment" to test if "spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model."
The letter – which was addressed to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform – explained that the "research project conducted during the 2018-19 grant period used bat coronavirus genome sequences that already exist in nature."
"Laboratory mice infected with the SHC014 WIV1 bat coronavirus became sicker than those infected with the WIV1 bat coronavirus," the letter says.
NIH gave the grant to EcoHealth Alliance – which is run by British scientist Peter Daszak. However, Tabak claims EcoHealth failed to comply with the terms of the grant, which required it to "report immediately a one log increase in growth."
"EcoHealth failed to report this finding right away, as was required by the terms of the grant," Tabak said.
Tabak called on EcoHealth to submit to the NIH "any and all unpublished data from the experiments and work conducted under this award" within five days.
Tabak stressed that EcoHealth's experiments with bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China did not cause the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is important to note up front that the published genomic data demonstrates that the bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant to EcoHealth Alliance, Inc. and subaward The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) are not and could not have become SARS-CoV-2," Tabak wrote.
The letter never actually uses the term "gain-of-function."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines gain-of-function research as:
Studies, or research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease, help define the fundamental nature of human-pathogen interactions, thereby enabling assessment of the pandemic potential of emerging infectious agents, informing public health and preparedness efforts, and furthering medical countermeasure development.
Fauci – the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – has repeatedly denied that any NIH funding went to gain-of-function research, including during testimony before Congress.
Republican lawmakers have reacted to the damning admission, including Sen. Paul – who locked horns with Dr. Fauci in several intense confrontations. The most heated face-off came in July, when Paul and Fauci accused the other of "lying" during a Senate Health Committee hearing.
On Thursday, the Republican senator from Kentucky shared the NIH letter on Twitter with the caption: "I told you so" doesn't even begin to cover it here."
Paul was asked about being vindicated during an interview on NewsNation.
"For over months and months, we've been saying that the NIH funded the Wuhan lab," Paul said. "We've been saying that they funded gain-of-function research, where they take a virus from nature and combine it with another virus, and create a virus that's not known in nature that can be more dangerous, that can cause a pandemic. They denied that. Now, we have the evidence from NIH, and it looks like NIH is starting to point fingers."
On Twitter, Paul cited a report from The Intercept about U.S.-funded research on the coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, "Realize that NIH is still funding Ecohealth collaboration with Wuhan thru 2025. Fauci has publicly stated his support for continuing U.S. taxpayer funding of Wuhan."
Sen. Paul warned about the dangers of gain-of-function research, and hypothesized the devastation that a potential lab-created virus could have on the world.
HHS Deputy admits Fauci's NIH funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan but says it was 'an unexpected result.' If the experiment combines unknown viruses and tests their ability to infect and damage humanized cells, of course the result is 'unknown' before the experiment. But it is not 'unexpected' that the virus gains in function it is simply 'unknown'. So, if this type of experiment created a virus that had 50% mortality (like MERS which they have experimented with in Wuhan), that result would be 'unknown' before the experiment but not "unexpected."
Paul appeared Thursday on the "Fox News Primetime" to hammer home the possible hazards of a gain-of-function experiment gone awry.
"Five million people died from a virus that came out of a lab – wouldn't we want to know, wouldn't we want to prevent this from happening again? This virus is very deadly, what if we had a virus that had a 15% mortality rate?" Sen. Paul asked.
Paul cited Kevin M. Esvelt – an evolutionary and ecological engineer, assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, and inventor of CRISPR-based gene drive technology – who wrote in the Washington Post about the perils of scientists manipulating viruses.
"These projects are the work of well-meaning scientists doing their best to save us from natural plagues," Esvelt explained. "But they are biomedical researchers and epidemiologists, not defense experts; security and nonproliferation issues aren't part of their training or mandate. Once we consider the possibility of misuse, let alone creative misuse, such research looks like a gamble that civilization can't afford to risk."
Sen. Paul said he has been asking for a bipartisan investigation into Fauci, and has already referred him to the Justice Department for an investigation. He added that this "partisan" Department of Justice is too busy going after "moms and parents complaining about what they are teaching in school," but likely "don't have time to go after Dr. Fauci for lying."
"He should be held accountable because what we have developed as a system of health care in our country where doctors are afraid to speak out because they will cut out their research funding, doctors who have talked about innovative treatment to try to help people survive COVID are being lectured and told we will take your license," Paul said of Fauci. "This is the kind of thing, this top-down centralization of medical authority, it's not good for our country and it's not good for innovation."
He called on Dr. Fauci to resign.
Other Republicans blasted Fauci for denying that the NIH funded gain-of-function research.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.): "Fauci knew. He should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.): "Evergreen tweet: Fauci lied again."
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.): "So when is Fauci going to be indicted for lying to Congress repeatedly? Oh wait, he's a liberal so it's ok. Different legal standards based on ideology for Garland's DOJ."
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) "Fauci wasn't honest. Shocker."
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas): "I met a lady today who lost her husband of 52 yrs & couldn't get treatment. She said 'had we been in Florida [instead of Oregon] he would have lived.' While Fauci covers up gain-of-function w/ EcoHealth Alliance & HHS prevents states from life-saving monoclonal antibodies."
Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo: "Dr. Fauci was not honest with the American people. Your money went to China for gain-of-function research on viruses. Lots of questions for him to answer."
Former President Donald Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows: "To call this a bombshell is an understatement. Dr. Fauci and others claimed under oath the NIH didn't fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Lab. Now the obvious is confirmed: they did."
Former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell: "Fauci lied under oath. Do something about it, Congress."