House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Health Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Republican Leader Morgan Griffith (R-VA) sent a new letter Tuesday to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins.
Why this matters: This latest letter raises questions about biosafety concerns at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and whether the NIH appropriately assessed such concerns prior to sending U.S. taxpayer funds to conduct research there. In particular, the leaders ask about grants that were awarded to EcoHealth Alliance by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), even after NIH reportedly knew about certain biosafety concerns.
“We have significant concerns that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has not been adequately meeting its oversight responsibilities over the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) grant R01AI110964, ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.’ The grant was awarded to the non-profit organization, EcoHealth Alliance, that funneled NIH funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to conduct research on bat coronaviruses. In our July 21, 2021, letter to you, we requested that the NIH provide staff briefings with Dr. Ping Chen and Dr. Erik Stemmy, NIAID officials involved with this grant and responsibility for oversight of the WIV. Unfortunately, the NIH has ignored this request.
“In addition to potentially inadequately assessing the inherent risks of the WIV research supported by NIH’s grant, we are also concerned that the NIH failed to oversee biosafety concerns at the WIV. The WIV is a complex of laboratories with various Biosafety Level (BSL) levels up to a BSL-4, the most secure biosafety level laboratory. However, under the R01AI110964 grant, the WIV researchers specifically reported performing coronavirus research in BSL-2 laboratories. Yet, risky coronavirus research should have been conducted in a laboratory with higher safety measures.”
Among the questions the leaders have for Dr. Collins are:
- Did the staff review the biosafety practices and BSL level of labs that were involved with the WIV research? If so, what were their findings?
- Did the staff know how many novel coronaviruses were being studied at the WIV? If so, please provide the information.
- Were staff aware of the WIV’s standard operating procedures for working with a novel coronavirus? If so, please provide the information.
- Did the staff have information on the biosafety procedures at the WIV designed to prevent potential exposure events? If so, please provide the information.
- Did the staff know what safety measures were used at the WIV to prevent cross-contamination? If so, please provide the information.
- Since EcoHealth Alliance still has its NIAID grant suspended due to lack of cooperation with the NIH, why is NIAID continuing to fund EcoHealth Alliance through other cooperative agreements?
- When did the NIH first recognize biosafety concerns at the WIV? What actions were taken?
The leaders ask that their questions pertaining to biosafety at the WIV and NIAID grant procedures be answered by September 7, 2021.
The leaders also requested staff briefings from NIAID officials Dr. Ping Chen and Dr. Erik Stemmy to be arranged immediately.
-House Energy & Commerce GOP