The federal government in 2018 rejected a proposal from EcoHealth Alliance to fund bat coronavirus research that included gain-of-function experiments with “humanized” and “batified” mice, leaked documents reveal.
The documents, obtained from a whistleblower and published by DRASTIC, appear to show that EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak proposed to work with researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and others to inject deadly chimeric bat coronaviruses collected in the wild into humanized mice. The proposed project was titled, “Project DEFUSE,” and was submitted to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2018 in a request for more than $14 million in federal funding.
EcoHealth Alliance’s project was submitted as part of DARPA’s PREEMPT program, which “seeks to contain viral infectious diseases in animal reservoirs before viruses evolve to threaten people.” DARPA ultimately rejected the project after reviewers determined EcoHealth Alliance proposed to conduct research that violated agency guidelines on gain-of-function research.
Gain-of-function research involves experiments that intentionally make viruses more transmissible among mammals, and particularly among humans. The purpose of such research is to study how viruses in nature might evolve to become deadly to human beings in order to develop vaccines and take other preventative measures against future pandemics. But critics warn that such experiments are dangerous because they engineer new viruses in laboratories that, should they somehow escape, could themselves cause exactly the sort of pandemic researchers want to avoid.
Since the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic remain wrapped in mystery, some have speculated that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have been the product of gain-of-function experiments conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located just 20 miles away from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where the first major outbreak of COVID-19 happened.
Documents obtained by the Intercept earlier this month confirmed that gain-of-function research was conducted at the WIV and was funded by U.S. taxpayers through National Institutes of Health grants sub-awarded by EcoHealth Alliance. While prominent public health officials such as NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci have previously denied that NIH funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan, these new revelations raise questions about NIH standards for determining what qualifies as gain of function.
According to DRASTIC, the documents show that DARPA rejected funding for EcoHealth Alliance’s 2018 proposal on the basis that “they propose to synthesize spike glycoproteins which bind to human cell receptors and insert them into SARSr-CoV backbones to assess whether they can cause SARS-like disease.”
Graphics from the proposal indicate that prominent scientists in the field of gain-of-function coronavirus research were to be involved, including WIV researcher Shi Zhengli, as well as Dr. Ralph S. Baric, a world-renowned virologist at the University of North Carolina. Baric and Shi collaborated on a gain-of-function study that was funded by NIH and published in 2015.
Dr. Baric did not respond to TheBlaze’s request for comment.
DARPA reviewers flagged the EcoHealth Alliance proposal for failing to assess the potential risks of such experiments and for failing to meet agency standards on gain-of-function research proposals.
Multiple federal government agencies developed guidelines for funding gain-of-function research after “biosafety incidents at Federal research facilities” led the Obama administration to implement a moratorium on all federal funding for such experiments in 2014. Though the moratorium was lifted by the Trump administration in 2017, guidelines for funding such experiments remained in place.
However, a Washington Post report published in August alleged that the NIH, under Collins and Fauci’s leadership, “helped shape policy changes” that undercut the authority of oversight bodies established to review gain-of-function research proposals.
The fact that DARPA appears to have rejected this 2018 gain-of-function research proposal from EcoHealth Alliance raises questions about why NIH and its sub-agency NIAID approved similar research requests.
When asked to confirm that EcoHealth Alliance submitted this proposal, a spokesman for DARPA said the agency was “not at liberty to divulge who may have or may not have not submitted a proposal in response to any of the agency’s solicitations.”
“Further, information contained within bids is considered proprietary and can only be released by the bidder. That being said, DARPA has never funded directly, nor indirectly as a subcontractor, any activity or researcher associated with the EcoHealth Alliance or Wuhan Institute of Virology,” the spokesman added.
Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance’s president, did not respond to TheBlaze’s request for comment.
Daszak, a highly influential scientist and one of the most prominent and fiercest critics of the lab-leak theory, in June recused himself from a U.N.-partnered commission investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic after failing to disclose his organization’s extensive ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.