During Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony before a Senate committee Tuesday he was grilled by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) about gain-of-function viral research purportedly done in this country or in China through National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, and he seemed completely unaware of the extent of such research done in this country. The term “gain-of-function” refers to the enhancement of viruses to make them more deadly and transmissible, and that research is ostensibly undertaken here in the United States so that we can develop defensive treatments for viruses that may have been weaponized through another country’s gain-of-function research.
Considering the implications of any revelation that the United States government is funding research that could be used in the development of viral weapons – especially if it was done in conjunction with Chinese scientists in Wuhan – it is understandable that Dr. Fauci would issue such a vehement denial. Among the things that Fauci was adamant about during Tuesday’s testimony was that the National Institutes of Health does not fund gain-of-function research.
The problem with most of Fauci’s testimony is that it doesn’t match the record available to us.
Let’s review what Sen. Paul asked Fauci:
“For years, Dr. Ralph Baric, a virologist in the US, has been collaborating with Dr. Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Virology Institute, sharing his discoveries about how to create super-viruses. This gain-of-function research has been funded by the NIH. The collaboration between the US and the Wuhan Virology Institute continues. Doctors Baric and Shi worked together to insert bat virus spike protein into the backbone of the deadly SARS virus and then use this man-made super-virus to infect human airway cells….
“Dr. Fauci, do you still support funding of the NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan?”
Fauci replied that the NIH doesn’t now and never has funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. After further questions from Sen. Paul, Fauci was adamant, repeatedly denying that gain-of-function research was being carried out at the Wuhan lab under an NIH or NIAID grant, and even that Dr. Baric was performing gain-of-function research. Here are Fauci’s exact quotes:
- “Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
- “If you look at the grant and you look at the progress reports, it is not gain-of-function….”
- “[T]he NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
- “We do not send money now to the Wuhan Virology Institute.”
- “[W]e have not funded gain-of-function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
- “I don’t favor gain-of-function research in China.”
- “Dr. Baric does not do gain-of-function research, and if it is, it’s according to the guidelines and it is being conducted in North Carolina, not in China.”
- “I don’t know how many times I can say it, Madam Chair, we did not fund gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Fauci’s statements are contradicted by numerous government sources and interviews with the scientists themselves. So, let’s review.
Claim: Dr. Baric does not do gain-of-function research, but if he does, it’s in North Carolina, not in China.
It’s indisputable that Dr. Baric does gain-of-function research, and that the NIH has paid him to perform such research. In 2004 Dr. Baric began work on a five-year NIH grant researching SARS reverse genetics. The research specifically states that “the goal of this application is to establish genetic control over the SARS genome and provide uniform reagents that will be used by other groups throughout the country.” While not specifically gain-of-function, it certainly discusses genetic control of a viral pathogen.
In 2013 NIH awarded Dr. Baric a $10 million grant to study “the pathogenic activity of viruses including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Ebola, highly pathogenic influenza and herpesvirus HHV8.” Dr. Baric put that money to work and in 2015, it was announced that his research had led to the development of “SARS 2.0.”
Since Dr. Baric is affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill, yes, his research is done in North Carolina. However, as Sen. Paul asserted, Baric has partnered with Dr. Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (yes, that’s in China) to conduct NIH-funded gain-of-function research on SARS and MERS viruses.
In June 2015 Baric and Shi published results of NIH-funded research into the mutations necessary for the bat-to-human transmission of MERS coronavirus. They found that when viral protein spikes mutated, humans could become infected with MERS-CoV. In other words, this is the exact research that would be necessary for a lab to synthesize a virus that would infect humans.
A few months later, in November 2015, the duo published the results of separate NIH-funded research which led to the discovery of a new SARS coronavirus, a chimera, they used gain-of-function techniques to create. That research was allowed to go forward even though the US government had issued a moratorium on gain-of-function research on the viruses that cause influenza, SARS, and MERS in October 2014. According to a VICE article on the research (emphasis added):
“The strain grew equally well to SARS in human cells,” Dr. Ralph Baric, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the lead author of the study, told Motherboard. “It resisted all vaccines and immunotherapy, too.”
According to Baric, the risk of “gain-of-function” research is worth it. The findings could provide a way to create vaccines and immunotherapy treatments before the next epidemic strikes. Because we have identified both SARS and SHC014-CoV, it’s now possible to develop vaccines that could target those viruses and the viruses that share commonalities between them. In other words, the new findings may help develop vaccines for many more strains of infectious diseases even though we haven’t identified them yet.
It’s startling that with the amount of easily obtainable evidence to the contrary, Dr. Fauci sat there with a straight face and claimed that Baric doesn’t do gain-of-function research, or that if he did it’s not done in China. Furthermore, to accept Fauci’s statements would be accepting that Baric, who is indisputably conducting NIH-funded gain-of-function research, did not share any of that research with or fund any research of, Zhengli or the WIV, despite the fact that we know they conducted a great deal of this research together. At the very minimum, NIH Funded research was shared with and enhanced the abilities of Zhengli and the WIV.
Claim: We have not funded gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology or in China or on this virus.
As shown above, NIH grants paid for Baric and Shi’s research on SARS coronaviruses (including the creation of a new one), and Shi works at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – in Wuhan, China. Now, unless Fauci is going to supply proof that Shi was working in North Carolina for the entire time that research was ongoing and never took that information back to the WIV, it’s clear that NIH funded gain-of-function research in China and at the WIV.
In addition, a US State Department press release from January 2021 states:
“Starting in at least 2016 – and with no indication of a stop prior to the COVID-19 outbreak – WIV researchers conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar). The WIV became a focal point for international coronavirus research after the 2003 SARS outbreak and has since studied animals including mice, bats, and pangolins.
“The WIV (Wuhan Institute of Virology) has a published record of conducting “gain-of-function” research to engineer chimeric viruses. But the WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses similarly to the COVID-19 virus, including ‘RaTG13,’ which it sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness.”
Translation: In 2013 WIV scientists sampled a virus now known as RaTG13 from a cave where several people died from a SARS-like illness. WIV began experiments on that sample starting in 2016 that, as far as we know, were ongoing at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. That sample has been identified as 96.2% similar to SARS-CoV-2 (or COVID-19). And, we know that WIV conducts gain-of-function research to “engineer chimeric viruses,” or create bioweapons.
USDA’s Center for Veterinary Biologics defines a chimera virus as:
“[A] new hybrid microorganism created by joining nucleic acid fragments from two or more different microorganisms in which each of at least two of the fragments contain essential genes necessary for replication.”
Even without further engineering, “combining two pathogenic viruses increases the lethality of the new virus,” so chimeric viruses have been considered as potential bioweapons. In fact, the Soviet Union’s Chimera Project attempted to combine Ebola and smallpox.
Some say that WIV’s research was aimed at the prevention and treatment of the next SARS virus and that any implication that the research could have been or was conducted to potentially develop bioweapons is absurd. They claim that the WIV is a “civilian” lab, not military. But the press release went into further detail on that topic:
“Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military. The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”
So, WIV (which is in China) was conducting research on a virus nearly identical to SARS-CoV-2, and they were also conducting gain-of-function research (possibly on RaTG13), and they were also engaged in classified research on behalf of the Chinese military.
Claim: We do not send money *now* to the Wuhan Virology Institute.
Fauci said WIV is not *now* receiving money from NIH, implying that it had in the past. Why would he insert that qualifying word “now,” you ask? Well, WIV received NIH grant funds as a subcontractor to EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit that since 2004 has “collaborated with Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers and others to study coronaviruses in bats in China and how they infect people.” The Wall Street Journal reports that in a 2018 WIV study resulting from a $3.4 million grant to EcoHealth Alliance, “the researchers found evidence that people living near the caves had been infected with viruses resembling the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome” (SARS).
After receiving intelligence reports questioning security at the WIV, in April 2020 the Trump Administration terminated EcoHealth Alliance’s grant. In July 2020 EcoHealth Alliance’s grant was reinstated, but as of February 25, 2021, “all activities associated with it remain suspended until the grantee meets certain conditions, according to an AP fact check. One condition EcoHealth Alliance is required to meet is to ensure that the WIV provides NIH with all research that included the SARS-CoV-2 virus and that they allow an independent team to inspect the facility.
Claim: Gain-of-function research is being done according to guidelines.
In summary, any reasonable person would arrive at the conclusion that the gain-of-function research Fauci denies funding, is actually being done. There are, however, guidelines for funding and overseeing gain-of-function research. The US Department of Health and Human Services has a board that must review the authorization of funding for “research that could make dangerous pathogens more contagious.” According to the Daily Caller, the NIH and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (the agency headed by Dr. Fauci) “systematically thwarted” the funding review process for the grant awarded to EcoHealth Alliance. Even more specifically, and much more damning for Fauci, is that according to gain-of-function research regulations, Fauci himself should have flagged the grant for review by the HHS Board, and he did not. Fauci also missed or ignored the part of HHS’s guidelines which state:
“[T]he research will be supported through funding mechanisms that allow for appropriate management of risks and ongoing Federal and institutional oversight of all aspects of the research throughout the course of the research.”
Call me crazy, but it might be a bit hard to accomplish that in a secretive lab in China.
Furthermore, Politico reported that US diplomats in China had been sending warnings to State Department bureaucrats in Washington DC regarding the WIV as far back as December 2017, specifically stating that the lab had “a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory.” There was no action taken, and the NIH continued to fund the research conducted there.
There are those who state that the funding that went to EcoHealth Alliance was for something other than gain-of-function research; however, as stated above, the purpose of the funding was to study coronaviruses in bats and how they could infect people. In other words, the entire purpose of the grant was to enable the study of coronaviruses in a lab the US State Department had been warned was unsafe and in which documented gain-of-function research was being conducted.
As an aside, NIH announced in December 2017 that it was lifting the moratorium on gain-of-function research. It has been reported that Fauci ordered the resumption of funding without consulting the White House or, by extension, the HHS, which is required under the gain-of-function research guidelines.
In closing, Dr. Fauci’s statements to Senator Paul are misinformed at best. We are left with very few options as to Dr. Fauci’s misstatements. Either Dr. Fauci intentionally lied to Senator Paul or, as a result of his incompetence, doesn’t know or understand what research the NIH is funding and where.
That’s for you to decide.