On Monday, Republican leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C) sent a letter to National Institute of Health (NIH) Acting Director Lawrence Tabak demanding the agency investigate Peter Daszak and EcoHealth Alliance for a cover-up and possible fraud related to research at the Wuhan Lab while using funds from the NIH.
Specifically, the lawmakers request the NIH investigate Daszak (the Principal Investigator of R01AI11964) and other EcoHealth officials to determine whether they intentionally withheld specific data related to mice deaths and additional material information during the peer review process for EcoHealth's grant renewal application. The letter states:
“Our review of EcoHealth Alliance’s reports about its humanized mice experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) using funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows pervasive discrepancies, inconsistencies, and omissions in its progress reports and renewal application that raise serious questions about scientific and ethical misconduct, violations of NIH policies and regulations, and possible false statements and fraud."
EcoHealth and Annual Progress Reports to Dr. Fauci's NIAID
The Apr. 25th 17-page letter, sent by Committee leaders Cathy Morris Rodgers (R-WA), Brett Guthrie (R-VA), and H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), explains that EcoHealth's grant from Dr. Anthony Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) was funded for June 2014 to May 2019. EcoHealth was required to submit annual progress reports to the NIAID during those five years. The submissions were required before funding for the following year was provided and typically occurred around mid-April. On Nov. 5, 2018, EcoHealth submitted a renewal application to NIAID, and in May 2019, the grant was renewed for another five years.
The lawmakers point out that the renewal was for $3.7 million, plus a $369,819 increase over the first award. They explain that "at that point, EcoHealth received its funding for Year 6, the first year of its grant renewal. However, the renewal and funding occurred before EcoHealth attempted to submit its Year 5 progress report in late July 2019."
The letter continues, adding, "EcoHealth claimed that it was locked out of the NIH system for submitting its Year 5 progress report, which remained unsubmitted until 2021. In April 2020, concerns emerged about EcoHealth-funded research at the WIV, and NIH suspended the grant on Jul. 8, 2020, which appears to remain suspended." Elaborating on EcoHealth's delayed submission of the Year 5 report, the lawmakers assert:
"EcoHealth's explanation for the delayed submission of the Year 5 report does not make sense. Dr. Daszak claimed that EcoHealth was ready to submit its Year 5 progress report at the end of July 2019, but EcoHealth was locked out by the NIH's data system. However, even if this were true, the question remains: Why didn't EcoHealth simply submit its Year 5 progress report by email to its grant officer? Even though it would not have been in the eraCommons system used by grantees, EcoHealth at least would have gotten its submission to the NIAID until submission into the eraCommons system could be figured out."
Daszak and EcoHealth's Financial Pressures
The Republicans summarize that EcoHealth faced a "brewing financial crisis" in 2017 and 2018 because the bulk of its funding came from the PREDICT II grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and EcoHealth didn't know if the grant would be reauthorized. This imminent prospect was known within EcoHealth as the "PREDICT cliff." These financial concerns consumed EcoHealth in meeting after meeting.
According to the letter, at a Mar. 29, 2018, EcoHealth staff meeting, Daszak voiced his uneasiness about the amateur nature of another failed submission to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). As written in Vanity Fair, Daszak said it was "a major failure on all accounts," and he demanded a "change in culture" as "part of [a] mentality [sic] to get money." Shortly after that, on Apr. 13, 2018, EcoHealth submitted its Year 4 progress report and its grant renewal application in November 2018, hiding critical details from an experiment in order "to get money."
Peter Daszak Admitted Plans for Domestic Terrorism and Bioweapons in 2015
Mice Death Cover-Up and Why it Matters
The letter points out that EcoHealth's grant renewal application concealed mice deaths by reproducing two figures from their Year 4 report but deleted the word "dead" from the term "dead point," therefore not implying mice deaths. Shockingly, the renewal application's use of the word "dead" was defaced and deleted. Nonetheless, EcoHealth used the term "dead" again in its Year 5 report. The letter maintains:
"Without the word “dead” with [the renewal application], the lung tissue graph would not have implied mice deaths; it would have implied only increasing viral loads. As such, this looks suspiciously tailored to delete this word in a document that would be reviewed by subject matter experts in the peer review process who were independent of NIAID."
The E&C Republicans—who have an ongoing investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and requested information from Dr. Daszak on Apr. 16, 2021—emphasize there is no transparent reason why EcoHealth was able to include the word "dead" in the Year 4 and Year 5 annual report graphs but not in the graph in the renewal application. They assert that deleting the word "dead" and concealing that fact from peer reviewers raises scientific and ethical concerns.
The lawmakers underscore that EcoHealth found itself with unpleasant choices. Daszak and the company could admit that they were doing gain-of-function research or risk losing money it desperately needed from NIAID. The lawmakers declared, "Given the financial pressures it was facing and the culture of 'getting money' urged by Dr. Daszak, the presentation of the humanized mice data in the renewal application appears intentional." Indeed, if the mice deaths had been disclosed, it is fair to expect that the peer reviewers would have noted these results and the discrepancies in the data when the data of both Year 4 and Year 5 reports are connected. The Republicans contend:
"Had the peer reviewers seen the mice death data from the survival rate graph held back for the Year 5 report, they would have known mice were dying at high rates from the chimeric viruses in a risky experiment. There was a significant probability that reviewers would have wanted to stop such risky research and not continue EcoHealth's funding."
The Committee Demands Dr. Tabak & NIH Investigate Daszak
In wrapping up, Rodgers, Guthrie, and Griffith (who urged the National Academy of Medicine to immediately suspend Dr. Daszak in Nov. 2021) insist the concerns outlined in the letter have profound implications on the integrity of the peer-review process. They demand further investigation be conducted to obtain "more complete and accurate information about the humanized mice experiments." The extensive letter lays out numerous credible concerns, such as "Why did NIAID neglect or willfully ignore EcoHealth’s missing Year 5 progress report for nearly two years?"
The Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C) is the oldest standing legislative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and is vested with the broadest jurisdiction of any congressional authorizing committee. The committee is responsible for telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health and research, environmental quality, energy policy, and interstate and foreign commerce, among others.
The Republican Committee leaders have asked Dr. Tabak and the NIH to respond by May 16, 2022.
REMINDER: Peter Daszak described the exact process of creating a virus-like SARS-CoV-2 at the Wuhan Lab on March 28, 2016.