Peter Daszak

(EcoHealth and other like-minded research groups did not prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve clearly failed. (But that’s in part because the world ignored the 2003 warning from SARS, which originated at Chinese wildlife markets and quickly spread globally.) And we never shut down the markets. That’s the problem,
We’re in this pandemic era where COVID is not the last one—I mean, give me a break. And there’s worse out there.

5 thoughts on “Peter Daszak

  1. shinichi Post author


    EcoHealth Alliance’s Peter Daszak is fighting accusations that his pandemic prevention work helped spark COVID-19

    by Jon Cohen

    Peter Daszak’s life took a turn for the worse on the evening of 17 April 2020. It has yet to recover.

    Daszak, a conservation biologist, heads the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit research group based in New York City that aims to prevent new infectious diseases from emerging. His family had been in a COVID-19 lockdown in their home outside the city for 1 month, and Daszak had spent long days working from a wood-paneled basement office, occasionally giving interviews as a pandemic expert.

    That Friday evening, he went upstairs for a cup of tea with his wife, who was in the kitchen watching a White House Coronavirus Task Force press conference on her iPad. A reporter asked then-President Donald Trump about supposed U.S. intelligence reports that SARS-CoV-2 came from a lab in Wuhan, China, which she claimed received $3.7 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

    Daszak hushed his wife and children. “No one in the family could understand why I was getting so touchy about a press conference—it was just the usual circus,” he says.

    Trump only had a wobbly grasp of the details and wrongly blamed the grant on his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, but his answer was emphatic: “We will end that grant very quickly.”

    That grant had actually gone not to China, but to EcoHealth. NIH had just renewed the award, which provided $3.7 million over 5 years to find and study bat coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the disease that nearly triggered a pandemic in 2003. During the first 5 years of the grant, EcoHealth had sent roughly 16% of the funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). One week after the press conference, NIH followed Trump’s orders and canceled the grant.

    The move put EcoHealth—and Daszak—at the center of an incendiary debate about whether SARS-CoV-2 has a natural origin or is the result of a “lab leak” from the research EcoHealth had supported. Daszak’s emails, tweets, letters, journal articles, and media interviews have been scrutinized; he has received blistering criticism in Congress, on social media, and in major news outlets; he has been accused of conflicts of interest, a lack of transparency, being a China apologist, and conducting reckless experiments. He has received death threats, including a letter holding white powder resembling anthrax, and journalists have staked out his home to shoot photos and videos. Two high-profile commissions to study the pandemic’s origin have collapsed in part because he was a member.

    Daszak is exasperated. “This is an antiscience attack and, unfortunately, we’re the target,” he says. He sees it as particularly unfair that, after warning about the risk of a coronavirus pandemic for more than 15 years, he is being vilified. “If a small group of scientists were absolutely correct in their predictions, why are we now putting them on the pyre in the middle of the village, dancing around, and burning them alive?” Daszak asks. “That’s what really sickens me to my stomach.”

    Daszak’s journey from oracle to pariah has appalled many colleagues. “Poor Peter is being crucified,” says Lam Sai Kit, an emeritus professor at the University of Malaya who has long worked with EcoHealth. “It’s really awful to see this kind of witch hunt,” says Peter Hotez, a Baylor College of Medicine global health researcher who has faced intense attacks himself for challenging the antivaccine movement. David Morens, an influenza researcher at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), says Daszak should be celebrated. “Peter is the smartest guy in the room with respect to these coronaviruses,” Morens says.

    But some scientists, even those dismayed by the attacks, say Daszak is in part a victim of his own making. They argue he failed to reveal important information that later surfaced through embarrassing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and leaks, and some accuse him of making false statements. “Daszak has been far from forthcoming about EcoHealth’s research, much of which is highly relevant to the pandemic origin discussion,” says Filippa Lentzos, a social scientist at King’s College London who specializes in biosecurity. “It is the pattern of continuing obfuscation and deceit that I find alarming.”

    Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney who’s solidly in the natural origins camp—he calls the debate a “tempest in an espresso cup”—says Daszak has been “unfairly vilified.” But EcoHealth “is guilty of shockingly poor communication and a naïvete that it would not come under scrutiny,” Holmes says.

    Daszak acknowledges minor mistakes, but says EcoHealth has not broken any rules, guidelines, or laws. “We have done nothing wrong,” he says. “We’ve done everything that any normal scientist would do, and in fact we’ve gone above and beyond that.” And yet, he says, the organization he has led for 2 decades and helped flourish is now “under existential threat.”

    DASZAK, WHO TURNS 56 this month, favors hiking pants and a hiking shirt, even in his New York City office. He is gregarious, funny, and unguarded, an avuncular type who can make complicated ideas engaging to nonscientists. But during a 7-hour interview he’s also intense and at times prickly when discussing the flood of allegations. After a cricket that has escaped from one of the terrariums in the office—home to a dozen snakes and lizards—hops by his feet, I make a joke about lab leaks. He is not amused.

    Daszak grew up in Dukinfield, England, a coal-mining town outside of Manchester. His father was a Ukrainian conscripted to serve in the German army when the Nazis invaded who wound up a British prisoner of war in Italy, which eventually led him to Scotland and a job in a chocolate biscuit factory. He later worked as a draftsman and married a woman from Dukinfield. The young Daszak shared his room with his brother John, who listened to Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo—he’s a professional opera singer today—while Peter was into the Sex Pistols, The Damned, and other punk bands.

    The Dukinfield area, Daszak wrote in an essay in the journal EcoHealth, was a “post-industrial apocalypse” of decrepit factories “with little room for nature,” where acid rain was “laying waste to our forests.” The river he crossed going to school “changed color weekly as different dyes were poured into its waters by clothing manufacturers.” He called it an “Eco-hell.”

    Daszak had 18 cages of reptiles at home. “I’m a lizard guy,” he says. In a primary school essay, he wrote that he wanted to become a zoologist and study marmosets in the Amazon. He studied zoology at Bangor University and earned a Ph.D. in infectious diseases at the University of East London with a thesis on electron microscopy of a parasite that caused an intestinal disease in chickens.

    A postdoctoral stint at Kingston University led to a collaboration with former surgeon Andrew Wakefield, now infamous for his role in the antivaccine movement. Wakefield asked Daszak to do electron microscopy of gut segments removed from Crohn disease patients. They found evidence of the measles virus, and Wakefield—“a charismatic guy,” Daszak says—went on to argue that the measles vaccine might be to blame for the disease. Subsequent studies made Daszak question the findings. “No one could repeat it,” he says. Wakefield was later discredited for a fraudulent study that linked vaccines to autism and has become a touchstone for vaccination skeptics.

    Daszak’s early work focused on disease outbreaks in animals. One caused the extinction of the tiny tropical snail Partula turgida, which had been wiped out in its natural range on South Pacific islands by 1991, collateral damage of a campaign to control another snail species that destroyed crops. Only one captive P. turgida population remained, part of a genetics study at the London Zoo. Then those survivors died as well; Daszak helped identify a unicellular parasite of the genus Steinhausia—which the snails caught and spread to one another in captivity—as the culprit. It was the first definitive evidence that an infectious disease could exterminate an entire species, he and Andrew Cunningham of the Zoological Society of London wrote. It also set the stage for Daszak’s life’s work: studying the link between human activity and devastating diseases.

    In 1998, he and others published a study that fingered a fungal disease, chytridiomycosis, as the culprit behind a mysterious global wave of frog deaths. “The frog story is more important than any other disease ever researched in a way, because it caused extinction of more than 30 species,” he boldly asserts. “We’re humans, so we think our species is more important.” Daszak and Cunningham later showed the international trade in bullfrogs, which are resistant to chytridiomycosis, helped spread the disease worldwide. “There were a bunch of folks saying it was caused by climate change,” Daszak says. “It was clearly caused by us.”

    That same year, a biotech company in Georgia hired Daszak’s wife, an immunologist, and they moved to the United States. He wound up on the faculty at the University of Georgia as a research scientist, and in 2001 became head of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, a nonprofit that sought to show how biodiversity loss, logging, wetland destruction, and other activities could drive the spread of disease in animals and humans. “It was an opportunity to work on my dream,” Daszak says. Nine years later, the group merged with the Wildlife Trust and rebranded itself as the EcoHealth Alliance.

    In his early years at the group, Daszak set up research collaborations in Australia and Southeast Asia to study the emergence of Nipah and Hendra, viruses that originate in fruit bats and occasionally cause outbreaks in humans. “He and his EcoHealth researchers have played a pivotal role in developing the network of Asian scientists in the surveillance and investigation of zoonotic infections,” says Lam, whose team helped discover Nipah virus.

    Daszak proved an astute leader and fundraiser, as well. When he took over the consortium, its annual budget was about $600,000; in 2020, EcoHealth spent some $11 million, most of it from government and foundation grants. It employs 33 scientists and 17 support staff, takes part in research in 41 countries—EcoHealth does not have its own lab—and boasts it has detected more than 1000 viruses.

    Daszak has long warned that some may pose a grave threat. “What worries me the most is that we are going to miss the next emerging disease,” he told 60 Minutes, “that we’re suddenly going to find a SARS virus that moves from one part of the planet to another, wiping out people as it moves along.” That was 16 years before COVID-19.

    Also in 2004, a Chinese researcher asked Daszak whether he could aid in the hunt for Nipah in China, as well. Daszak sent a young veterinarian he had hired, Jonathan Epstein, who teamed up with Shi Zhengli, a virologist at WIV who then specialized in diseases of shrimp. They didn’t find Nipah but stumbled on coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV, leading to a widely cited Science paper the next year that first tied bats to SARS.

    Daszak himself met Shi in 2006. They struck up a long scientific collaboration that resulted in 18 joint papers, most describing SARS-related bat coronaviruses. “Peter has a Chinese name, Da Xia Ke, which is homophonic to his family name and means ‘swordsman’ of the ancient China—a person adept in martial arts and having a strong sense of justice and ready to help the weak,” Shi says. “I think his Chinese name reflects very well his character.”

    The admiration is mutual, and Daszak bristles at assertions that Shi, who now leads bat coronavirus research at WIV, is hiding data about viruses or experiments in her lab—or a lab leak. “She is not lying,” he says. “Anyone with half a brain can tell when a person is faking it at this level.”

    DASZAK FIRST LEARNED of what would later be named COVID-19 on 30 December 2019. “I got a heads up from folks in China: Have you seen what’s going on Weibo?” he says. “So you Google Translate Weibo”—a social media app—“and it’s all over the place, people gossiping about this new outbreak.” He made a few phone calls to Chinese scientists and learned about unconfirmed reports of a new coronavirus. He mentioned them in a tweet on New Year’s Eve and sent a barrage of other messages about “important and disturbing information coming out of China.”

    Over the next month, chatter on Chinese social media, articles in right-wing news outlets, and even a U.S. senator—Tom Cotton, (R–AR)—began to tie the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 to WIV and Shi. Some even claimed Shi’s group had bioengineered the virus, and she received death threats. “I was really shocked and upset by that,” Daszak says. “This will do nothing more than undermine the incredible openness and transparency we’ve built up that’s critical for protecting all of us from pandemics!!!” he tweeted on 2 February 2020.

    He decided to organize a statement of support for colleagues in China, which The Lancet published a few weeks later. “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” 27 signatories from nine countries wrote.

    It became the first of many lightning rods. By branding suggestions of a lab leak as “conspiracy theories,” the statement helped stifle what should have been an open discussion, former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade wrote in a savage critique of scientists and the media published in May 2021. The letter also helped make Daszak himself a target. It did not disclose his own links to WIV, and emails obtained under FOIA by U.S. Right to Know, a watchdog group focusing on public health issues, later revealed he sought to downplay his role in orchestrating it.

    Daszak disclosed his “competing interests” in a somewhat testy addendum this past June. In retrospect, he agrees he should have done so earlier, but he says the letter was a statement of support, not a scientific study, and the link was obvious from the many papers he and Shi co-authored. As to the conspiracy theories, “We wanted to show support for scientists who have been threatened because of the idea that they’d designed, bioengineered, and released a weaponized virus,” he says. “That was the conspiracy theory at the time and that clearly has been shown to be false.” He blasts the notion that the statement, subsequently signed by more than 20,000 people, stymied the debate.

    Daszak acknowledges not all lab-leak scenarios involve ill intent. “The lab-leak idea morphed from one thing to another,” he says. “Every time that happens, I think, ‘Oh my god, is this true? Could this be real?’ And we go and check. We do what you’re supposed to do.”

    After bioengineering accusations came the idea that WIV was hiding a bat virus that sickened six men cleaning an abandoned mine in Mojiang, China, in 2012. Then allegations gained traction that WIV tweaked bat viruses to study their pandemic potential, creating SARS-CoV-2 by accident. There’s also a scenario that begins with a researcher becoming infected by sampling bats in the field or working at the WIV lab and spreading the virus to colleagues. Finally, there’s the possibility that WIV unwittingly had a bat sample with SARS-CoV-2, which somehow leaked. “Of course it’s possible—things have happened in the past,” Daszak says. But he has seen no evidence.

    “People are more intrigued by the nefarious story than the boring story that it spilled over,” Epstein says.

    THE AXING OF THE NIH GRANT, in April 2020, left about a 6% dent in EcoHealth’s budget, but the wound cut much deeper. “It’s the total disparaging of our integrity, our character as an organization, discrediting me and everybody else who works here,” Daszak says. “It’s just untenable.” Many scientists assailed NIH for capitulating to the White House and cutting a grant that peer reviewers deemed a high priority; 77 Nobel laureates wrote a letter in protest. (NIH offered to reinstate the grant 5 months later, but attached conditions that EcoHealth says it can’t possibly meet.)

    The attacks intensified after Daszak decided to join a mission to study the pandemic’s origin, organized by the World Health Organization (WHO). The group traveled to China in January for 1 month of work with Chinese colleagues. “I didn’t want to go, and I said no initially,” Daszak says. A sense of duty prevailed: “If you want to get to the bottom of the origins of a coronavirus outbreak in China, the No. 1 person you should be talking to is the person who works on coronaviruses in China who’s not from China,” he says. “So that’s me, unfortunately.”

    But the trip was “awful,” Daszak says. The team spent half of the time locked up in a quarantine hotel and faced nonstop work and political pressure. Its report ranked the lab-origin theory as “extremely unlikely” but called natural spillover “possible-to-likely.” Even the head of WHO criticized what he saw as a “premature push” to scuttle the probe of a lab leak. And Daszak was slammed for his conflicts of interest.

    Mission member Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center whose department collaborates with EcoHealth, says Daszak “was tough” with the Chinese scientists and dismisses the notion he drove the “extremely unlikely” conclusion. “It’s really overestimating the dominance of Peter in this group,” she says. Daszak says he now wishes he had stayed home. “It’s hard to say, but do I think it was a mistake from my health and family security point of view?” he asks. “Absolutely.” WHO has since disbanded the team and proposed a new panel—which includes Koopmans but not Daszak—to study the origins of emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

    Daszak also agreed in November 2020 to chair a task force organized by a Lancet commission to study the pandemic’s origins. Again his ties to WIV—and other task force members’ links to EcoHealth—stoked criticism. He resigned from the chair position this past June, but remained a member until the Lancet commission decided to disband the entire task force.

    The public drubbing continued when additional FOIA requests turned up thousands of pages of documents related to EcoHealth and Daszak. First came an email, obtained by BuzzFeed and The Washington Post, that Daszak sent to NIAID Director Anthony Fauci the day after Trump pledged to cut the grant. “I just wanted to say a personal thankyou [sic] on behalf of our staff and collaborators, for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Daszak wrote.

    NIH blacked out one paragraph in the email, claiming it could interfere with law enforcement, which fanned lab-leak proponents’ suspicions. But the redacted material, which Daszak shared with Science, is innocuous, stressing the value of his collaboration with virologists in China and saying, “We’re fighting to keep the communications open with our Chinese colleagues, so that we can better address future pandemics like COVID-19.” The FOIA process had evidently created smoke where there was no fire. “Bizarrely, it created its own conspiracy,” Daszak says.

    But in September, a FOIA request to NIH from The Intercept—which required a lawsuit to obtain documents—also yielded details about controversial experiments done at WIV by Shi during her collaboration with EcoHealth. Her lab has more than 2000 samples of bodily fluids from bats that have tested positive for coronaviruses. To assess the risk of those viruses to humans, Shi’s team took sequences coding for their viral surface protein and stitched them into a bat coronavirus called WIV1, one of only three she has succeeded in growing in lab cultures. Daszak and Shi described these chimeric viruses in a 2017 paper. None of them has a close relationship to SARS-CoV-2. But some lab-leak proponents believe Shi, possibly with Daszak’s knowledge, hid other chimeric virus experiments that led to SARS-CoV-2.

    The same batch of documents also showed that in “humanized” mice, some of the chimeric viruses grew better and were more lethal than WIV1. An NIH official, in response to an inquiry from a member of Congress, claimed EcoHealth had “failed to report” the worrisome results immediately, as the grant required. Daszak sent NIH a detailed letter strongly rebutting that accusation.

    The documents also included a grant report that described an additional experiment, in which Shi added bat coronavirus surface proteins to the coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a highly lethal human pathogen. Ferocious debates erupted about whether this work and the WIV1 studies constituted gain of function (GOF), the type of experiment that can make disease agents more transmissible or pathogenic and that requires extra layers of review. Richard Ebright, a biochemist at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, who has long lobbied against GOF research, tweeted that both “unequivocally” met the definition of GOF.

    This month, the White Coat Waste Project, a group that opposes animal experimentation, obtained correspondence between NIH and EcoHealth showing that protracted discussions over the experiments led to the decision that they were outside the GOF definition and could go ahead. The Daily Caller, co-founded by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, suggested the agency had capitulated to its grantee, reporting that “NIH dropped the issue after nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance downplayed the concerns.” The headline on an Intercept story about the correspondence said NIH officials “worked with EcoHealth Alliance to evade” GOF restrictions. In an email to Science, NIH wrote that its GOF review followed a “standard process.” “Any indication that EcoHealth Alliance crafted oversight language for its own award is false,” the agency wrote.

    EVEN SOME SCIENTISTS sympathetic to EcoHealth were dismayed when a rejected grant proposal for other studies came to light only after it was leaked to an internet-based group named DRASTIC that supports the lab-leak theory. The application, which Daszak and others submitted to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2018, outlined a variety of research projects to address the threat of bat coronaviruses. One experiment, to be done by Ralph Baric and colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, would make it easier for human enzymes to cleave their viral surface proteins, increasing infectiousness and thus their pandemic potential. (Baric did not respond to requests for comment.)

    Arguments that a lab had engineered SARS-CoV-2—the “conspiracy theories” Daszak had attacked in the early days of the pandemic—hinged on just such an artificial introduction of what’s known as the furin cleavage site. “I’m just absolutely stunned that Daszak and Baric had not made this public,” Holmes says. Holmes is quick to add that the revelation does not make the lab origin any more credible for him. “It hasn’t changed my view that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 is entirely natural.” But, he says, “It’s appalling from the perspective of transparency, which is clearly critical if we are going to figure out what happened.”

    Virologist Angela Rasmussen of the University of Saskatchewan, who has assailed the lab-leak theory, agrees. “The failure to be forthcoming with all of this information and to let it instead come to the public’s attention through these weaponized FOIA requests have really led to this perception that there’s something untoward going on,” Rasmussen says.

    Daszak says he didn’t even remember the five sentences that describe the Baric experiment in the 43-page DARPA proposal that describe the experiment and says scientists do not routinely make failed grant proposals public. “If we’d have released it, how would that have helped people understand the origins of COVID?” he asks. “It would have just allowed more mud to be thrown into the truth.” Making NIH grants and annual updates public could have further imperiled an already strained relationship with the agency, he adds: “If I start releasing stuff about NIH, how does that play in the Office of the Director?”

    Daszak does acknowledge having made a few mistakes. He once said WIV did not house live bats—calling it another “conspiracy theory” in a tweet—but later admitted he was misinformed; the lab did have bats at one point for immunological studies, but they were not of a species that harbors SARS-related coronaviruses. An EcoHealth spokesperson gave inaccurate information about the MERS study, Daszak says. And the late filing of a grant report with NIH, which he blames on a misunderstanding, could have been handled better. “We just assumed everything was fine and, well, that was a mistake,” he says. By and large, however, Daszak remains unshaken. “People can disparage us because of what other folks say, but we have maintained our integrity.”

    ALMOST 2 YEARS into the pandemic, its origins are still a mystery. Daszak contends his collaboration with WIV might already have figured out the origin of SARS-CoV-2 if “U.S. geopolitics” hadn’t “crushed” it. “Our one last chance to keep open scientific collaboration with that lab was canceled. That’s a real tragedy,” he says. Of course, this presumes China would have allowed the collaboration to follow the leads, and Daszak readily acknowledges the Chinese government’s lack of transparency. “Do I think China’s done a lousy job of openly discussing what happened? Oh, absolutely,” he says. He says he also has encouraged WIV to make public its audits of Shi’s lab. Daszak’s bottom line, which he repeats frequently: “You mix politics with science and you just get politics.”

    Even if scientists do eventually find a convincing precursor to SARS-CoV-2 in animals or humans, Daszak expects suspicions it escaped from a lab will live on. “You can never prove a negative,” he says. But as evidence for a natural origin piles up and the current pandemic winds down, the storm will subside, he predicts.

    What will not go away is the threat posed by emerging pathogens and the need for prevention efforts. That’s why EcoHealth will persevere, he says, and he hopes to continue leading it. Another NIH grant still brings in $1.5 million a year to organize teams of researchers in the United States, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia to search for humans and animals infected with novel viruses, providing an early warning and response system for new outbreaks. Multiyear, multimillion-dollar grants from the U.S. Department of Defense are funding collaborations to study Rift Valley fever in South Africa, the spillover potential of Nipah-related viruses and filoviruses in Malaysia and hemorrhagic fever in Tanzania, and the risks to humans of bat-borne diseases in western Asia.

    Daszak acknowledges that EcoHealth and other like-minded research groups did not prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve clearly failed,” he says. But that’s in part because the world ignored the 2003 warning from SARS, which originated at Chinese wildlife markets and quickly spread globally, he adds. “And we never shut down the markets. That’s the problem,” he says.

    “We’re in this pandemic era where COVID is not the last one—I mean, give me a break,” Daszak says. “And there’s worse out there.”


    Daszak’s dilemmas

    Peter Daszak sounded the alarm about the pandemic early but has since been accused of a lack of transparency, conflicts of interest, and downplaying the lab-leak hypothesis.


    24 JulyThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) renews the EcoHealth Alliance’s 5-year grant on risks of bat coronaviruses emerging.

    31 DecemberDaszak tweets about possible new coronavirus in Wuhan, China.


    19 FebruaryDaszak and 26 others condemn “conspiracy theories” in a Lancet letter.

    17 April“We will end that grant very quickly,” President Donald Trump says at press conference.

    24 AprilNIH axes $3.7 million EcoHealth grant.

    20 MaySeventy-seven Nobel laureates are “alarmed” by NIH’s decision.

    18 NovemberU.S. Right to Know obtains emails showing EcoHealth “orchestrated” the Lancet letter.

    23 NovemberDaszak is named head of a Lancet task force on SARS-CoV-2 origins.

    25 NovemberDaszak is named a member of a World Health Organization (WHO) origins commission.

    10 DecemberDaszak tweet says Wuhan lab housing bats is a “conspiracy theory.”

  2. shinichi Post author


    In August, an EcoHealth Alliance award was terminated after the organization failed to turn over records critical to the Covid origin probe. The next month, it got a new grant.

    by Ryan Grim

    The Intercept

    The main U.S.-based scientific organization at the center of the controversy over the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic has won a new grant from the National Institutes of Health for risky bat coronavirus surveillance research, despite losing a previous award for failing to provide records essential to an investigation into that origin.

    The grant was awarded September 21 to EcoHealth Alliance, helmed by Peter Daszak, and is titled “Analyzing the potential for future bat coronavirus emergence in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.” The new grant comes despite an open congressional investigation into the organization, which has two other ongoing NIH grants and a third in negotiation.

    In August, the NIH terminated a sub-award to the Wuhan Institute of Virology that had been part of an earlier grant to EcoHealth Alliance, telling the House Oversight Committee that the organization had refused to turn over laboratory notebooks and other records as required. “NIH has requested on two occasions that EHA provide NIH the laboratory notebooks and original electronic files from the research conducted at WIV. To date, WIV has not provided these records,” the NIH wrote to the committee. “Today, NIH has informed EHA that since WIV is unable to fulfill its duties for the subaward under grant R01AI110964, the WIV subaward is terminated for failure to meet award terms and conditions requiring provision of records to NIH upon request.”

    On August 19, the NIH wrote to EcoHealth to let it know that the sub-award had been terminated for “material non-compliance with terms and conditions of award.” The agency added that EcoHealth could potentially renegotiate the grant without the involvement of the Wuhan lab.

    Within weeks of terminating the Wuhan lab funding, the NIH awarded the new grant. The aim of the new research is to identify areas of potential concern for future pandemic emergence in order to help public health authorities suppress an outbreak before it breaks containment. But the process of performing the research introduces the risk of sparking an outbreak that would not otherwise have occurred, a concern highlighted by The Intercept last year: “Virtually every part of the work of outbreak prediction can result in an accidental infection. Even with the best of intentions, scientists can serve as vectors for the viruses they hunt — and as a result, their work may put everyone else’s lives on the line along with their own.”

    The new grant proposes to collect samples of viruses from wildlife and then “rapidly supply viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine and therapeutic development,” likely meaning that the researchers could ship live viruses around the world.

    “It is disturbing that additional funding continues to be awarded for the same high-risk research that may have caused the current pandemic, before there has been a national investigation of the origin of the current pandemic,” said Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist with the Waksman Institute at Rutgers University, referring to EcoHealth’s multiple ongoing grants.

    The Intercept first reported on one of the grants, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” last September; the work described involves research that many scientists characterized as “gain of function,” meaning that it can confer new attributes to make a virus more pathogenic or transmissible. The specific experiments described in detail in grant documents that have so far been made available used viruses that were not closely related enough to SARS-CoV-2 to have caused the pandemic. Critical records remain outstanding. (There is no evidence that the research supported by the new grant would qualify as gain of function, though the full proposal has not been made public, only a one-page summary.)

    Another grant, “Study of Nipah virus dynamics and genetics in its bat reservoir and of human exposure to NiV across Bangladesh to understand patterns of human outbreaks,” also involves high-risk collection of viruses. The Southeast Asia hotspot grant was awarded in June 2020, at the height of controversy over the grant covering work in Wuhan.

    Early on, Daszak himself was heavily involved in coordinating two global investigations into the origin, before his conflict of interest on the question emerged. Since then, EcoHealth and its partner at the Wuhan institute have impeded the investigation. (Daszak, who did not respond to a request for comment, has previously said that he is cooperating fully.)

    Daszak’s NIH grant is also remarkable given that the NIH has repeatedly pressed Daszak for information he has declined to provide. On November 5, 2021, and again on January 6, 2022, the NIH demanded that EcoHealth Alliance provide original laboratory notebooks and electronic files related to the research under investigation as the cause of the pandemic. The records have yet to be provided. Ebright, a critic of Daszak, said it is “disturbing that additional funding continues to be awarded to a contractor that the NIH has reported to have repeatedly and seriously violated contractual terms and conditions of a grant.”

    The lack of specific lab records pinpointing a specific accident or mutation that led to the emergence of the novel coronavirus has been used as evidence to discount the possibility of a lab origin, but without access to the records in question, such evidence is unattainable.

    In early February 2020, many of the scientists who today are the most vocal advocates of a natural origin theory joined a conference call with Dr. Anthony Fauci and then-NIH head Francis Collins. Ahead of the call, and in notes afterward, they expressed varying degrees of concern that the virus may have originated in a lab. Fauci and Collins, who controlled a large portion of the global funding streams for scientific research, discouraged the pursuit of the theory.

    Alina Chan, co-author of the book “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19,” said she has questions about what new safeguards have been put in place by Daszak.

    “Can our scientific leaders, institutions, and journals stop doubling down on approaches that might’ve accidentally caused the current pandemic?” she asked. “Hunting and studying novel bat CoVs has not significantly contributed to the pandemic response.”

    Those who’ve probed the question of the pandemic’s origin, from the Lancet Commission established for that that purpose to the world of intelligence, have left it open. “After examining all available intelligence reporting and other information … the IC” — intelligence community — “remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19. All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident,” offers the most comprehensive intel analysis declassified in 2021.

    Ebright said we should pause funding of such research without answers to these questions and until “there has been a national discussion of whether research should continue to be performed that offers little or no benefit and poses high risk of causing a next pandemic.”

    Democrats in Congress have paid little attention to the NIH funding controversy, but Republicans could soon be in charge of one or both chambers. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the top Republican on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, is in line to chair the panel in the event of a takeover. On Monday, she slammed the NIH for its continued funding of Daszak’s organization.

    “EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak should not be getting a dime of taxpayer funds until they are completely transparent. Period. This is madness,” Rodgers said in a statement. “This further intensifies our extensive commitment on the Energy and Commerce Committee to ensure accountability from the National Institutes of Health for its role in supporting taxpayer-funded risky research without proper oversight of its grantees.”

  3. shinichi Post author

    NIH Presses U.S. Nonprofit for Information on Wuhan Virology Lab

    National Institutes of Health told EcoHealth Alliance it must hand over information and materials from Chinese research facility to resume funding for suspended grant

    by Betsy McKay

    The National Institutes of Health told a small New York-based nonprofit that it must hand over information and materials from a research partner in Wuhan, China, that is under scrutiny by the Trump administration to win back a multimillion-dollar research grant.

    Among the items the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance must provide to resume funding is a sample of the new coronavirus that the Wuhan researchers used to determine its genetic sequence, according to a July 8 letter from the NIH viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

  4. shinichi Post author

    NIH says grantee failed to report experiment in Wuhan that created a bat virus that made mice sicker

    EcoHealth Alliance violated terms of grant, according to letter to House Republicans

    by Jocelyn Kaiser

    An ongoing controversy over what constitutes virology research that is too dangerous to conduct—and whether the U.S government funded studies in China that violated a policy barring funding for such risky research—has taken a new turn. While denying once again it had helped create the virus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed in a letter sent yesterday to Republicans in Congress that experiments it funded through a U.S.-based nonprofit in 2018 and 2019 at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China had the “unexpected result” of creating a coronavirus that was more infectious in mice.

    NIH says the organization holding the parent grant, the EcoHealth Alliance, failed to immediately report this result to the agency, as required. A newly released progress report on that grant also shows that EcoHealth and WIV conducted experiments changing the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which is raising additional questions.

    NIH noted in its letter that when the agency reviewed the original EcoHealth grant proposal, it determined the proposed experiments—designed to determine whether certain bat coronaviruses might infect humans—did not meet its definition of so-called gain-of-function (GOF) experiments that can make pathogens more dangerous to humans.

    The letter is giving fuel to critics of NIH who say agency leaders have not been upfront with Congress about the work NIH was supporting in China, many of whom believe WIV could have created SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current pandemic. At the same time, NIH emphasized in a newly released analysis that any viruses being studied at WIV under the grant were too evolutionarily distant from SARS-CoV-2 to have been transformed into it.

    NIH sent the 20 October letter to Representative James Comer (R–KY), ranking member of the House of Representatives oversight committee, along with a final progress report about the EcoHealth Alliance grant that NIH had funded and later canceled at then-President Donald Trump’s behest. (It was later reinstated but with conditions EcoHealth said it could not comply with.) The report describes studies conducted at WIV between June 2018 and June 2019 on recently collected bat coronaviruses circulating in the wild in China. Some examined whether their spike proteins, which the viruses use to attach to and infect cells, could when expressed in a previously known bat coronavirus called WIV1, bind to the human angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 cell receptor in a mouse model.

    In a “limited experiment,” mice infected with one of these chimeras, SHC014 WIV1, “became sicker than those infected with the WIV1 bat coronavirus. As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result … as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do,” states the letter from NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

    Before the chimera work was funded, NIH had determined it was not GOF research involving what NIH calls “enhanced pathogens of pandemic potential,” because neither the new bat coronaviruses nor WIV1 were known to infect humans, the letter says. But the letter says the terms of the grant stated that if the virus experiments produced certain results, such as “a one log increase in [virus] growth,” EcoHealth should inform NIH “immediately” and that NIH would do a “secondary review” of the research, to see whether it should be re-evaluated or new biosafety measures imposed.

    But “Ecohealth failed to report this finding right away, as was required by the terms of the grant,” the letter states. It says EcoHealth now has 5 days to submit all unpublished data from the project.

    EcoHealth embraced NIH’s backing that it had not created SARS-CoV-2, but also challenged the agency’s letter in a statement: “As the NIH states, the science is clear: none of the coronaviruses EcoHealth Alliance researched bear a close enough resemblance to the virus that causes COVID-19 to have played any role in its emergence. EcoHealth Alliance is working with the NIH to promptly address what we believe to be a misconception about the grant’s reporting requirements and what the data from our research showed. These data were reported as soon as we were made aware, in our year 4 report in April 2018. NIH reviewed those data and did not indicate that secondary review of our research was required, in fact year 5 funding was allowed to progress without delay. We are also working to answer any questions NIH has about the research on this R01 grant, which is not currently ongoing.”

    Critics of NIH who claim the agency has lied about the work it funded at WIV pounced on the letter. Rutgers University, Piscataway, microbiologist Richard Ebright, a prominent critic of GOF research, commented in a tweet: “NIH corrects untruthful assertions by NIH Director [Francis] Collins and NIAID [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] Director [Anthony] Fauci that NIH had not funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan.”

    Virologists who have reviewed the EcoHealth grant disagree on whether the chimera experiments fit the U.S. definition of GOF research of concern, according to a story last month in The Intercept. That media organization, which had sued under public records laws to force NIH to release the final progress report, today noted the report also detailed chimeric virus experiments with the MERS virus, which infects humans; the EcoHealth report describes changing the binding properties of the spike protein of the MERS virus. One virologist told The Intercept the experiment was “sort of crazy” and “definitely gain of function” research.

    Along with its letter to Congress, NIH appended and also posted online a new analysis asserting that the viruses studied at WIV under the grant share no more than 96% to 97% of the SARS-CoV-2 sequence, which puts the viruses “decades” of evolution apart.

    “The naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false,” the agency said in a statement.

  5. shinichi Post author




    ところが、スノーデン・ファイルで有名になった「The Intercept」が登場となると、状況はいっぺんに変わってくる。

    何が正しいのか? 中国を巻き込んで、わけのわからないことが、延々と続いている。


    わかっているのは、Covid-19 よりも強力なウィルスが、そう遠くない未来に現れるだろうということ。なんとも。。。


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