The infectious disease section of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had many wonderful successes in fighting diseases, for instance, the viral AIDS epidemic (Ref.1). As the largest funder of biomedical research, their goals become the focus of major laboratories around the world. By about 2008 they decided to try to better understand how the many possible spontaneous changes to animal viral pathogens could become more dangerous to humans, so as to be better able to defeat them. Thus, they supported using molecular biology techniques to intentionally make these pathogens more deadly. However, within the scientific community there arose serious questions regarding the wisdom of artificially creating deadly viral pathogens that may escape the laboratory, initially H5N1 bird flu (Ref.2,3). Addressing these concerns, Drs. Fauci, Nabel and Collins, senior leaders of the NIH defended this policy in a 2011 Washington Post opinion piece titled, A flu virus risk worth taking (Ref.4). Then when the Coronavirus diseases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Mideastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) appeared, efforts quickly shifted to Coronavirus research with a focus on Elephant Bat viruses. Many millions of U.S. dollars were spent by the Infectious Disease Section of the NIH (Ref.5). Other sources of funding were the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Dept. of Defense, the Predict Program (searching worldwide for new viruses) of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with funds to Wuhan China through the EcohealthAlliance headed by Dr. Peter Daszak. (Ref.6)
There continued to be an ongoing debate as to the wisdom of funding experiments using animal viruses not infectious to humans, deliberately changing their molecular structure so that they became exceedingly dangerous. Concern for safety in the scientific community increased, causing the NIH to establish a moratorium (2014-2017) of funding this research (Ref.7,8). It appears that the Wuhan and North Carolina labs did receive funding during the moratorium. In 2017 the NIH, continuing its 2011 policy decision of accepting risk, announced the ending of the moratorium (Ref 9,10). During the moratorium in 2015, the Wuhan China and North Carolina laboratories published an important paper describing their progress in molecular engineering a humanized, highly infectious Coronavirus first isolated from the feces of elephant bats some 600 plus miles from Wuhan (Ref.11,12).
The possibility that the Wuhan level 4 viral facility could have a breach of one of its weaponized viruses was deemed possible as warned by an American review team (Ref.13). Thus, it is difficult to believe that it is merely a coincidence that the pandemic began in the close proximity of the Wuhan lab (Ref 14). The extent of funding of these experiments with American dollars needs careful investigation. For whatever reason, China is making investigations of the source of SARS-CoV-2 difficult, but this need not deter a U.S. inquiry independent of the WHO (Ref.15). We should trace the flow of monies from U.S. federal sources and review the grant applications of both the North Carolina and Wuhan labs.
There must be a serious societal debate as to the wisdom of funding these experiments in the name of science; better alternatives should be pursued. The cost of this pandemic in human loss and treasure is beyond measure. This whole line of research was supported by those employed by the government with little input as to the wisdom of these experiments from elected policy leaders.
1) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “Laboratory of Viral Diseases, Ted Pierson, Ph.D., Director,” NIH, March 19, 2018, available at: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/lab-viral-diseases (Accessed Feb. 6, 2021)
2) Allison Young and Nick Penzenstadler, “Investigation Reveals Hundreds Of Accidents, Safety Violations And Near Misses Put People At Risk,” USA Today, May 28, 2015, available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/05/28/biolabs-pathogens-location-incidents/26587505/ (Accessed Jan. 20, 2021
3) Opinion – Editorial, ”An Engineered Doomsday,” The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2012, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/opinion/sunday/an-engineered-doomsday.html (Accessed Jan.21, 2021)
4) Opinion, Anthony S. Fauci, Gary J. Nabel and Francis S. Collins, “A flu virus risk worth taking,” The Washington Post, December 30, 2011, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-flu-virus-risk-worth-taking/2011/12/30/gIQAM9sNRP_story.html Accessed Jan. 22, 2012)
5) Fred Guterl, “Dr Fauci Backed Controversial Wuhan Lab with U.S. Dollars for Risck Coronavirus Research,” Newsweek, April 28, 2020, available at: https://www.newsweek.com/dr-fauci-backed-controversial-wuhan-lab-millions-us-dollars-risky-coronavirus-research-1500741 (Accessed Jan. 22, 2012)
6) Correction: Corrigendum: “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses show potential for human emergence,” Nat Med, 2016; 22(4):446, available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7095988/ (Accessed Jan. 22, 2021)
7) Guest Editorial, Marc Lipsitch and Thomas V. Inglesby, “Moratorium on Research Intended To Create Novel Potential Pandemic Pathogens,” mbio.asm.org, Nov./Dec. 2014, Vol.5 (6), available at: https://mbio.asm.org/content/mbio/5/6/e02366-14.full.pdf (Accessed Jan. 23, 2021)
8) Letter To The Editor, Lynn C. Klotz, “Danger of Potential-Pandemic-Pathogen Research Enterprises,” mbio.asm.org, May/June 2015 Vol. 6(3), available at: https://mbio.asm.org/content/mbio/6/3/e00815-15.full.pdf (Accessed Jan.22, 2021)
9) Talha Burki, ”Ban on gain-of-function studies ends,” The Lancet-Infectious Diseases, Feb. 2018, available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(18)30006-9/fulltext (Accessed Jan. 23, 2021)
10) Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institutes of Health, “NIH Lifts Pause on Gain-of-Function Research,” Dec. 19, 2017, available at: https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/nih-lifts-funding-pause-gain-function-research (Accessed Jan. 24, 2021)
11) Vincet D. Menachery, Boyd L. Yount Jr. ………… Zhengli-Li Shi & Ralph S. Baric,” A SARS – like cluster of circulating bat Coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence,” nature medicine,Nov. 9, 2015, available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nm.3985 (Accessed Jan. 26, 2012)
12) Alexis Baden-Mayer, “Dr. ‘Coronavirus Hunter’ Ralph Baric: Preparing Us for a Pandemic? Or Putting Us in Peril of One,” Organic Consumers Association, Aug. 26, 2020, available at: https://www.organicconsumers.org/blog/dr-coronavirus-hunter-ralph-baric-preparing-us-pandemic-or-putting-us-peril-one (Accessed Jan. 27, 2021)
13) Opinion – Josh Rogin, “State Department cables warning of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat corona viruses,” The Washington Post, April 14, 2020, available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/state-department-cables-warned-safety-issues-wuhan-lab-studying-bat-coronaviruses/ (Accessed Jan. 27, 2021)
14) Nicholson Baker, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis” New York Magazine, Jan. 4,2021, available at: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/coronavirus-lab-escape-theory.html (Accessed Jan. 20, 2021)
15) Alan Chan and Matt Ridley, “The World Needs a Real Investigation Into the Origins of Covid-19,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 15, 2021, available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-world-needs-a-real-investigation-into-the-origins-of-covid-19-11610728316 (Accessed Jan 16, 2021)