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Lancet COVID-19 Commission disbands over ties to EcoHealth Alliance

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An independent commission affiliated with the Lancet scientific journal formed last year to investigate the origins of COVID-19 has been disbanded over concerns about its link to EcoHealth Alliance, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, was formerly the head of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission before recusing himself in June after failing to fully disclose his long-term relationship with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. EcoHealth Alliance has faced scrutiny from lawmakers, scientists, and investigators for providing the WIV with grant money from the National Institutes of Health to study bat coronaviruses in the months and years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who hypothesize that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in a laboratory question whether gain-of-function experiments conducted at the Wuhan lab played a role in the beginning of the pandemic. Given EcoHealth Alliance's support for such research, there was a clear conflict of interest in having Daszak lead an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lancet COVID-19 Commission Chairman Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University, said he disbanded the commission because "I just didn't want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance."

According to Sachs, the scientists involved with the commission's work will continue to study the origins of the virus for a report that will be published in mid-2022. Their work will be broadened to include "input from other experts on biosafety concerns including government oversight and transparency regarding risky laboratory research," the Journal reported.

Sachs explained that labs around the world have the technology to perform gain-of-function experiments — which genetically alter viruses to become more transmissible among mammals, and particularly among humans — but said international regulations and standards for this risky research is lagging behind the science.

"A lot is going on around the world that is not properly scrutinized or explained to the public," Sachs said.

There is no definitive explanation for the origins of COVID-19. There is evidence both for and against the theories that the virus has a natural origin, as well as the possibility of a research-related origin. Nevertheless, Daszak and five other members of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission denounced the lab-leak hypothesis as a conspiracy theory and were vocal supporters of the natural origins theory as the only scientifically plausible beginning for COVID-19, though there was not sufficient scientific evidence to advance this claim.

World Health Organization-led investigations into COVID-19's origins have been stonewalled by China, and a U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the virus presented by President Joe Biden in August was inconclusive because of a lack of data from China.

The Journal reported that in the coming months a new national COVID-19 commission will be formed to investigate the origins of the virus, led by Philip Zelikow, a professor of history at the University of Virginia and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The commission will reportedly form a task force "that will include experts in emerging disease epidemics and scientists with experience in and concerns about high-risk laboratory research."

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