The National Institutes of Health (NIH) under the Trump administration pulled funding from a study last Friday on bat-human disease transmission that would help scientists understand the origin of coronaviruses, including COVID-19.
Politico reported on Monday that Michael Lauer, the deputy director for extramural research at the NIH, had told the study’s sponsors at EcoHealth Alliance via email that the agency would no longer fund the project, nor was the EcoHealth Alliance permitted to use what was left of the its 2020 grant.
“At this time, NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities,” Lauer wrote.
The EcoHealth Alliance told Politico that the research group was “planning to talk with NIH to understand the rationale behind their decision” as the COVID-19 outbreak rapidly spreads across the world.
“We work in the United States and in over 25 countries with institutions that have been pre-approved by federal funding agencies to do scientific research critical to preventing pandemics,” the EcoHealth Alliance said.
President Donald Trump’s GOP allies and several Fox News personalities have peddled an unproven conspiracy theory that claims COVID-19 originated from a research facility in Wuhan, China and then escaped the lab, causing the pandemic.
Part of the conspiracy theory alleges that the EcoHealth Alliance gave some of its funding to the Wuhan lab, a narrative Lauer cited in his email correspondence with the researchers conducting the bat study.
In one of the emails obtained by Politico, Lauer had told the researchers last week that NIH officials “need to know all sites in China that have been in any way linked to” funding for the study.
“It would be helpful for us to know about all China-based participants in this work since the Type 1 grant started in 2014 — who they were and how much money they received,” Lauer wrote in another email. “The sooner you can get us that information, the better.”
Pete Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, told the NIH deputy director, “I can categorically state that no fund from [the grant] have been sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nor has any contract been signed.”