Fauci’s Claim That the NIH Never Funded Gain-of-Function Research at the Wuhan Lab Has Some Serious Holes

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by Stacey Lennox, PJ Media:

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the archnemesis of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Paul attends Senate hearings related to COVID-19. Paul arrives prepared, and he is a medical doctor. He also has a libertarian streak that makes him question everything, which is admirable. During the hearing, Paul took Dr. Fauci to task based on the investigative journalism of Nicholas Wade.

Wade worked in staff and editorial positions for the journals Nature and Science. Beginning in 1982, he was a science writer for The New York Times. He retired in 2012 but continued to freelance for his former employer, publishing his last article for the Times in March of this year. On May 2, 2021, he wrote an extensive and thoroughly researched piece on Medium, outlining the evidence for the two primary theories of the origins of COVID-19. It seems odd that the Times didn’t publish it. His excellent piece might have been relegated to the fate of most Medium posts if Fox News Host Tucker Carlson had not covered it on Tucker Carlson Tonight on May 10.

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Wade thoroughly discussed the evidence for both the lab leak hypothesis and a natural emergence. Part of what he included was the path through which the NIH and NIAID, the latter of which is led by Fauci, funded gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In some cases, it was funded through a contractor, Eco Health Alliance, run by Dr. Peter Daszak, who then subcontracted it to Dr. Zheng-li Shi. Shi, known as the “Bat Lady” at the Wuhan Institute.

The first study I can find is from 2015, published in Nature. Both Dr. Shi and her mentor, Dr. Ralph Baric (University of North Carolina), are listed as authors. It discusses the creation of a “chimeric virus.” The virus the team started with was a “SARS-like” coronavirus that was circulating in horseshoe bats in China. It was not infecting humans at that time. They joined it with the backbone of a mouse-adapted SARS virus and successfully infected human airway cells using the new virus. This is called gain-of-function research.

The abstract notes that no vaccine or monoclonal antibody treatment was effective, and neither was any therapeutic for SARS when mice were infected with the new virus. The Wuhan lab had created a virus for which there was no available treatment in a lab known for its poor security protocols.

Most interesting is the note in the Acknowledgements section of the study. During the Senate hearing, Paul directly asked Fauci about supporting gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. Fauci responded: “Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect. The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology… We do not send money now to the Wuhan Virology Institute.”

Yet the study claims the following (emphasis mine):

Research in this manuscript was supported by grants from the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Disease and the National Institute of Aging of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) under awards U19AI109761 (R.S.B.), U19AI107810 (R.S.B.), AI085524 (W.A.M.), F32AI102561 (V.D.M.) and K99AG049092 (V.D.M.), and by the National Natural Science Foundation of China awards 81290341 (Z.-L.S.) and 31470260 (X.-Y.G.), and by USAID-EPT-PREDICT funding from EcoHealth Alliance (Z.-L.S.). Human airway epithelial cultures were supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease of the NIH under award NIH DK065988 (S.H.R.). We also thank M.T. Ferris (Dept. of Genetics, University of North Carolina) for the reviewing of statistical approaches and C.T. Tseng (Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Texas Medical Branch) for providing Calu-3 cells. Experiments with the full-length and chimeric SHC014 recombinant viruses were initiated and performed before the GOF research funding pause and have since been reviewed and approved for continued study by the NIH. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

So, the study was funded by Dr. Fauci’s division, the NIAID; Dr. Richard Hodes’ division, the NIA; and EcoHealth Alliance using money from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at the outset. When the Obama administration placed the moratorium on gain-of-function research in 2014, the study was reviewed and permitted to continue by the NIH. So Fauci saying the agency never funded gain-of-function research is false.

They funded it through Dr. Baric, and the Wuhan lab did some of the work. Since the virus was sourced in China, it does not seem rational to have sent it to North Carolina if scientists were unsure as to its infectious capability. Whatever work Baric was doing in North Carolina was in support of a gain-of-function study in Wuhan. The study was published in November of 2015.

Not only did the NIH begin funding it before the moratorium, but they also approved a gain-of-function study to continue after the pause. The research team felt this was an important detail to include. That would likely have left Fauci, Hodes, and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins in a position to make decisions on that approval. A senior staff member ostensibly should have had the final say on whether or not research met the criteria for an exception to the moratorium.

After that study, it appears the NIAID no longer directly funded Dr. Shi, and I cannot locate another study with Dr. Ralph Baric listed as an author. I did find a study in the Journal of Virology from 2016 that lists Dr. Shi and Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance. Daszak had been funded by USAID previously. In the funding section of the study it states (emphasis mine):

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