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Politics HHS to Review Research Grants Amid Republican Concerns Wuhan Lab Used Money Improperly

20:00  15 june  2021
20:00  15 june  2021 Source:   newsweek.com

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A Health and Human Services watchdog is reviewing grants the National Institute of Health issued to ensure that the recipients' use of the funds was in compliance with federal requirements.

Anthony S. Fauci sitting in front of a curtain: The Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General will review grants issued by the National Institute of Health to ensure they were in compliance of federal regulations. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee hearing looking into the budget estimates for National Institute of Health (NIH) and state of medical research on Capitol Hill on May 26 in Washington, D.C. © Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images The Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General will review grants issued by the National Institute of Health to ensure they were in compliance of federal regulations. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee hearing looking into the budget estimates for National Institute of Health (NIH) and state of medical research on Capitol Hill on May 26 in Washington, D.C.

About 80 percent of the NIH's funding supports research grants, including funding that supports research conducted outside of the United States. Republicans called that funding into question during the pandemic amid their concerns that the Wuhan Institute of Virology used the money for unauthorized gain-of-function research.

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A work plan on the HHS Office of the Inspector General's website said the office will review the NIH's monitoring of selected grants, and grantee use and management of NIH funds. The expected issue date is 2022 and the OIG noted it previously found the NIH's oversight of grants to foreign applicants as a "potential risk" to the department meeting program goals and funding being appropriately used.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers during a committee hearing the Wuhan lab received $600,000 over a five-year period of time. He denied, however, that the money was used for gain-of-function research and it's unclear if the grant will be reviewed, although it was issued in the time frame the OIG is looking at.

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Fauci told Sen. Rand Paul in a tense exchange, "you are entirely and completely incorrect. The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology."

When pushed during a separate hearing as to how he knew the money wasn't used for gain-of-function research, Fauci told Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, he couldn't guarantee it, but put his trust in Chinese scientists.

"In our experience with grantees, including Chinese grantees, which we've had interactions with for a very long period of time, they're very competent, trustworthy, scientists. I'm not talking about anything else in China, I'm talking about the scientists," Fauci said.


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Dr. Shi Zhengli, a top researcher at the Wuhan lab, also denied she was conducting gain-of-function research. Nicknamed China's "Bat Woman," for her long-time research on bat coronaviruses, Shi told The New York Times her work doesn't fall under the umbrella of gain-of-function because she's studying how a pathogen might jump across species.

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  GOP senators call for HHS and NIH to hand over records on COVID-19 origins and Wuhan lab Five Senate Republicans are urging the leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health to hand over records related to the origins of COVID-19 and China's Wuhan Institute of Virology following recent revelations within heavily-redacted emails from Dr. Anthony Fauci. © Provided by Washington Examiner Sen. Ron Johnson, ranking member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, along with Sens. Josh Hawley, James Lankford, Rand Paul, and Rick Scott, sent a letter obtained by the Washington Examiner to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and NIH Director Francis Collins on Monday.

"I'm sure that I did nothing wrong," Shi said. "So I have nothing to fear."

Gain-of-function research includes the manipulation of pathogens to make them more dangerous to humans in attempts to foresee the next pandemic and prepare before it happens. It's considered a controversial research method because of the possibility a laboratory accident could introduce a deadly pathogen into the world, the United States banned the research from 2014 until 2017.

In May, the Senate passed Paul's amendment that would permanently ban all funding of gain-of-function research in China.

"We don't know whether the pandemic started in a lab in Wuhan or evolved naturally," Paul said after its passage. "While many still deny funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan, experts believe otherwise. The passage of my amendment ensures that this never happens in the future. No taxpayer money should have ever been used to fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan, and now we permanently have put it to a stop."

Tesia Williams, the director of communications for the OIG, told CNN the agency shares concerns regarding compliance and oversight of NIH grant funds. Williams added that they've been "monitoring this issue for some time" and consider it a "high-priority matter."

First on CNN: HHS watchdog announces review of NIH grants that likely includes money connected to Wuhan lab

  First on CNN: HHS watchdog announces review of NIH grants that likely includes money connected to Wuhan lab Federal government investigators said Tuesday that they are launching a review into how the National Institutes of Health manages and monitors its grant program, which likely includes money connected to a Wuhan lab that GOP lawmakers have been scrutinizing. © Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images This general view shows the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021, as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, visit.

Paul has long called for an investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology as an origin point for the pandemic. It's a theory that's gaining traction and one that the U.S. Intelligence Community hasn't ruled out as a possibility. However, similarly to a report co-authored by an international team that visited Wuhan, the Intelligence Community considers the possibility that COVID-19 is naturally occurring to be the more likely scenario.

A political hot button, China vehemently denies the lab was the source of the outbreak and chalks up the skepticism to political maneuvering on the part of Beijing's adversaries. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has also denied that any of its staff members had COVID-19, although some have called into question whether the information coming out of China can be trusted.

Newsweek reached out to the Office of the Inspector General for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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Chinese Science Academy Lists Wuhan Lab as Outstanding Prize Candidate for COVID-19 Research .
U.S. officials have suggested that there may be evidence that the virus accidentally leaked from the Chinese lab. China has strongly denied the claim, defended the lab, and accused Western media of spreading rumors and engaging in smear campaigns. On Friday, the Chinese Academy of Sciences published a list of candidates for its annual outstanding achievement award, which included the Wuhan lab. The award is often given to researchers who have "demonstrated significant achievements in the past five years," according to the Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper.

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