Jim Jordan launches investigation into lack of federal oversight of risky gain-of-function experiments
Andrew Kerr, DCNF
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan and Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher launched a congressional investigation Wednesday into the lack of federal oversight of gain-of-function experiments that set out to make dangerous pathogens more transmissible.
Jordan and Gallagher’s letter, which extensively cited the Daily Caller News Foundation’s previous reporting on the matter, was addressed to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Senior Science Advisor David “Chris” Hassell, who acknowledged during a January 2020 event that there are flaws with the way his department oversees gain-of-function research.
Hassell is the only known board member of the HHS Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) review committee, which was formed in late 2017 after a three-year pause on government funding of gain-of-function research to provide additional federal oversight into such experiments.
But Hassell’s review committee wasn’t even notified of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant with the nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance that involved the modification of bat-based coronaviruses and the transfer of $600,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) prior to the pandemic.
— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) June 2, 2021
A NIH spokesperson previously told the DCNF that the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, declined to flag the EcoHealth grant for P3CO review because the sub-agency determined on its own accord the project did not involve gain-of-function research.
Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard H. Ebright told the DCNF that the EcoHealth grant “unequivocally” involved gain-of-function research, and said the NIH’s ability to sidestep P3CO review of such research is a “systemic problem.”
Hassell said during a January 2020 talk before the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity that the current definition of gain-of-function research is “very narrow … which has resulted in only getting a few influenza-related proposals” for his committee’s review.
“I’ll just probably be more frank than maybe appropriate — I think that’s too narrow,” said Hassell, who then suggested that the government could be funding gain-of-function research that his committee hasn’t vetted.
“I think that could be revisited, and again there could be some definition issues,” Hassell added.
Jordan and Gallagher’s letter demanded Hassell address the “definition issues” he brought up during his January 2020 talk.
The letter also asked Hassell to confirm whether he believes the EcoHealth grant should have been reviewed by his oversight committee.
The Republican lawmakers also asked Hassell to describe his communications with Fauci, including any communications relating to the NIAID’s grant with EcoHealth which involved subgrants to the WIV.
The letter Wednesday comes after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and five other Republican senators sent a letter to NIH Director Francis Collins on May 20 asking why his agency didn’t forward the EcoHealth grant for P3CO review.