House Committee No Longer Trusts NIH/NIAID to Oversee Risky Monkey Pox Research

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 06/14/2024
It appears HHS, NIAID, and the NIH misled and obstructed Congress about the funding and approval of Monkey Pox (MPXV) gain of function (GOF) experiments by NIAID pox virologist Bernard Moss. It is yet unknown whether the experiments occurred because of the agencies' obfuscation. Republicans from the Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C or the Committee) have investigated the agencies and scientists involved since October 2022. Anthony Fauci was still head of the NIAID at the time and Committee staff concluded that the NIAID "is the agency that bears the most responsibility for misleading the Committee." NIAID has the subject matter expertise, the staff and "control of the documents related to the experiment." According to the Committee's June 11, 2024 Interim Report, "The agencies' deception of Congress is unacceptable and potentially criminal."

Science Magazine interviewed Moss in September 2022 for an article on MPXV. During the interview, Moss "noted he and his colleagues had swapped dozens of genes from the much more transmissible, but less deadly, clade II MPXV into the more deadly clade I MPXV," according to the House Committee's report. He also explained in the same interview that he planned to try the opposite, "endowing clade II virus with genes from its deadlier relative." This meant he would "transfer genes from the deadlier clade I into the more transmissible clade II," an experiment that raised red flags for other scientists in the field. Some felt the transfer could mean that "a more potent version of the mpox outbreak strain could spark an epidemic that would be substantially more lethal." The article explains Moss' research:


"Moss has been trying for years to figure out the crucial difference between two variants of monkeypox virus: clade 2, which until recently was found only in West Africa and is now causing the global outbreak, and clade 1, believed to be much deadlier, which has caused outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo for many decades. He's found that clade 1 virus can kill a mouse at levels 1000 times lower than those needed with clade 2. To find out why, Moss and his colleagues swapped dozens of clade 2 genes, one at a time, into clade 1 virus, hoping to see it become less deadly, but with no luck so far. Now, they are planning to try the opposite, endowing clade 2 virus with genes from its deadlier relative."

The Committee's report reveals that over a period of 18 months, HHS, NIH, and NIAID "repeatedly obstructed and misled the Committee about whether the transfer of genes from clade I into clade II experiments described by Dr. Moss in the Science article had been approved or conducted." HHA and NIH repeatedly refused to provide documentation early in the investigation. Only after the agencies demanded an in-camera review did the agencies involved share the information with the Committee.

In addition, HHS and NIH repeatedly sought to avoid "either a transcribed interview or subpoena" on the research. The Committee only learned the full story of the proposal and its approval after HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Melanie Egorin admitted in camera that "research involving bidirectional transfer of genes between clades l and ll of the MPXV was considered and approved." Her letters are provided in Appendix l of the report


NIH, HHS, and NIAID Allegedly Repeatedly Lied to Congress

The agencies allegedly lied repeatedly to the Committee, stating the most dangerous MPXV experiments "had not been proposed" or "planned." However, internal documents prove the experiment was "formally proposed and received approval before the NIH's Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) on June 30, 2015." This was seven years before the Committee first asked about the experiment. According to the Committee's report, "With the IBC's approval, researchers could have conducted the proposed bidirectional experiment at any time after June 2015, until May 2023, when the approval was effectively revoked by the NIH." The revocation was about seven months after the Committee's first letter requesting information from Dr. Moss. According to the report, the only requirement was that scientists were required to notify the NIH's IBC when they would begin inserting clade l genes into the clade ll virus. 

One of the interim report's most important conclusions is that NIAID "cannot be trusted to oversee its own research of pathogens responsibly." This is particularly important in light of Biden's May 6, 2024 EO that updates "policy for the oversight of dual research of concern and pathogens with enhanced pandemic potential." The policy leaves funding agencies like "NIAID in charge of approval and oversight of potentially risky research they fund." The report also notes that the Committee no longer trusts NIH or NIAID to fairly oversee or determine "whether an experiment poses an unacceptable biosafety or public health risk. According to the report, "The MPXV research proposal has become a case study about how the NIH, and particularly NIAID, oversees and accounts for the monitoring of potentially dangerous GOFROC research."

While the Committee will continue to investigate the details of the research, it still does not know whether the research actually occurred. Why would HHS and the NIH/NIAID "go to such great lengths to mislead the Committee about an approval for the experiment that never occurred?" The Committee is still exploring the possibility of misleading and obstructive conduct as being in contempt of Congress or referral to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for violating 18 USC § 1001 and/or 31 USC § 3729.

The House Committee recommended the removal of final review and approval for experiments involving GOFROC/DURC from the NIH/NIAID because there is an "inescapable conflict of interest and misalignment of incentives." The interim report concludes, among other things, that "Principal investigators, research institutes, and funding agencies are poorly positioned to, and perhaps incapable of, conducting adequate risk/benefit analysis and oversight of experiments that—by virtue of having proposed them and approved their funding—they want to see conducted." The Committee proposed an oversight board for institutions conducting potentially lethal or viral NIAID-funded research, "similar to those currently required for high-containment biosafety level four laboratories."

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