HHS Suspends Federal Funding for Group Tied to Wuhan Lab – Medpage Today

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HHS temporarily suspended and is proposing to stop all federal funding for EcoHealth Alliance, a research organization that worked on bat coronaviruses in conjunction with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“This is to provide notification that, on behalf of [HHS], I have suspended and proposed for debarment EcoHealth Alliance, Inc. (EHA) from participating in United States federal government procurement and nonprocurement programs,” Henrietta K. Brisbon, MBA, Suspension and Debarment Official and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisitions at HHS, wrote in a letter to EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak, PhD.

“Debarment is generally for a period not to exceed 3 years; however, regardless of whether EHA contests this action or responds to this notice, I may impose debarment for a longer period or shorter period as the circumstances warrant,” she added.

Brisbon referred to a memo that she said “indicates that EHA lacks the present responsibility to participate in federal procurement and nonprocurement programs … HHS believes there is adequate evidence in the record for this debarment cause and that immediate action is necessary to protect the public interest.”


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“Offers will not be solicited from, contracts will not be awarded to, existing contracts will not be renewed or otherwise extended for, and subcontracts requiring United States federal government approval will not be approved for EHA by any agency in the executive branch of the United States federal government, unless the head of the agency taking the contracting action determines that there is a compelling reason for such action,” Brisbon wrote in the letter. In addition, “no United States federal government contractor may award to EHA a subcontract equal to or in excess of $35,000, except for certain subcontracts for commercially available off-the-shelf items, unless there is a compelling reason to do so.”

An EHA spokesman said in a statement that the organization “is disappointed by HHS’ decision and we will be contesting the proposed debarment. We disagree strongly with the decision and will present evidence to refute each of these allegations and to show that NIH’s continued support of EcoHealth Alliance is in the public interest.”

The group has 30 days from the date of the letter to respond and explain why it should not be debarred.

Although the letter didn’t specify a particular reason for the proposed debarment, it comes in the wake of a particularly contentious House Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing a few weeks ago, featuring Daszak as the star witness.

Subcommittee Chair Rep. Brad Wenstrup, DPM (R-Ohio), highlighted some of the conclusions of an interim report published May 1 on the issue by the subcommittee’s majority members.

“We have found that EcoHealth was nearly 2 years late in submitting a routine progress report to NIH, that EcoHealth failed to report, as required, a potentially dangerous experiment conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), that EcoHealth used taxpayer dollars to facilitate risky gain-of-function research, and that Dr. Daszak omitted a material fact regarding his access to unanalyzed virus samples and sequences at the WIV in his successful effort to have his grant reinstated by NIH,” Wenstrup said in his opening statement.

In addition, he noted, “Dr. Daszak has been less than cooperative with the Select Subcommittee, he has been slow to produce requested documents, and has regularly played semantics with the definition of gain-of-function research, even in his previous testimony.”

Generally, “gain-of-function” refers to research involving a genetic mutation in an organism, such as a virus, that confers a new or enhanced ability upon it.

An EHA spokesman reached out to MedPage Today to disagree with Wenstrup’s assertion that Daszak had been involved with gain-of-function research and said the NIH had agreed that the work done at the Wuhan lab — as well as the unfunded work Daszak’s group proposed — was not considered gain-of-function.

Gain-of-function research was also the focus of questions from Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) “EcoHealth Alliance never has, and did not do, gain-of-function research, by definition,” Daszak said in response to her question.

House Republicans praised HHS’s action. “This announcement is welcomed but long overdue,” House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Subcommittee on Health Chair Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said in a joint statement.

“Not only did EcoHealth Alliance intend to mislead the federal government through research proposals, but [Daszak] also lied to Congress,” they added. “This deception and obstruction alone are enough to merit debarment and come in addition to EcoHealth’s mishandling of taxpayer-funded grant money and failure to conduct meaningful oversight of the now-debarred Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-Calif.), ranking member of the coronavirus select subcommittee, agreed. “Every recipient of federal taxpayer funding has an obligation to meet the utmost standards of transparency and accountability to the American public,” he said in a statement. “EcoHealth Alliance’s failure to do so is a departure from the longstanding legacy of good faith partnerships between NIH and federal grantees to advance science and the public interest, which remains essential for the continued work of preventing and preparing for future threats to our nation’s public health.”

  • Joyce Frieden oversees MedPage Today’s Washington coverage, including stories about Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, healthcare trade associations, and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience covering health policy. Follow

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