Records from US and Chinese researchers showed the agency created viruses in a Wuhan lab that exhibited over 10,000 times higher viral load in humanized mice than the natural virus. A professor from Rutgers University said the data was a "bona fide bombshell."
Dr. Richard Ebright, a vocal opponent of gain-of-function research, said the data proved the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), under Fauci’s leadership, violated federal policies, endangered the public and lied to the public, reported the Daily Caller.
Fauci testified before the Senate in June that his agency never funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The US nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance notified the NIAID in two reports. Between 2017 and May 2018, it had created three lab-generated chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses in China that exhibited "significantly higher" viral loads documents. The agency continued to fund the project with taxpayer dollars without flagging it for review by an independent federal committee created in late 2017 to oversee gain-of-function research.
"The results demonstrate – unequivocally – a gain in function," said Ebright, who added that the gain-of-function research activity that NIAID allowed EcoHealth to conduct in China could have yielded the virus that causes COVID-19 or a progenitor of that virus.
EcoHealth first notified the NIAID it created the three lab-generated SARS-related coronaviruses in a progress report detailing its research activities between June 2017 and May 2018. "These results demonstrate varying pathogenicity of SARSr-CoVs with different spike proteins in humanized mice," the report added.
EcoHealth included a chart visualizing the increased viral load of their lab-created viruses. The chart is presented in a Log scale, meaning each tick of the chart represents a 100-fold increase in viral load in mice with humanized cells, explained Ebright.
"Each tick in the chart on the right represents an increment of 100x," said Ebright. "The day 4 data show greater-than-10,000x higher viral loads for the lab-generated viruses."
The viral load for humanized mice infected with the natural virus caught up with the lab-created strains by the end of the experiment, the chart shows. Still, Ebright said that viral loads in the early stages of infection are important figures to consider when assessing a pathogen’s transmissibility.
According to the Nature science journal, the viral load for people infected with the COVID Delta variant is roughly 1,000 times higher than those infected with the original strain of the virus.
"In terms of assessing the potential for transmissibility, the viral load at all time points, particularly at early time points, is relevant," he said.
EcoHealth provided another chart in its progress report showing that humanized mice infected with their lab-created viruses lost more bodyweight than humanized mice infected with the natural WIV1 strain. EcoHealth included the same two charts in a 2018 request to the NIAID requesting additional funding for its research in China.
Federal funding for gain-of-function experiments that increased the transmissibility or pathogenicity of potential pandemic pathogens was temporarily suspended in 2014 due to widespread scientific concerns that risked leaking supercharged viruses into the human population.
Funding for gain-of-function research was resumed in late 2017, but only for projects that went through the new Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, which includes a review by an HHS review board tasked with critically evaluating whether grants that involve enhancing dangerous pathogens, such as coronaviruses, are worth the risks and that proper safeguards are in place.
The NIAID opted not to flag the EcoHealth grant for P3CO after determining the project "did not involve the enhancement of the pathogenicity or transmissibility of the viruses studied," said a National Institutes of Health (NIH) spokesperson.
Fauci said during a congressional hearing in May that the NIH and NIAID "categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology," a claim that led Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in July to send a criminal referral to the Department of Justice to investigate whether Fauci lied before Congress.
The P3CO framework defines an "enhanced" potential pandemic pathogen as any lab-created virus that exhibits any level of boosted transmissibility and/or virulence. Funding agencies such as the NIAID are required to flag any research grant that is "reasonably anticipated to create, transfer, or use enhanced PPPs" for P3CO review.
Despite this, the documents suggest that the NIAID authorized EcoHealth to conduct gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses up to a certain threshold.
The NIAID informed EcoHealth in a June 2018 award notice that it must notify the agency only if it creates a virus "with enhanced growth by more than [10 times] compared to wild-type strains," according to documents. The NIAID linked to the P3CO review process, which contains no such mention of a 10 times allowance, in the very next sentence, the document shows.
An NIH spokesperson told the DCNF the agency "never approved any research that would make a coronavirus more dangerous to humans."
"The research we supported in China, where coronaviruses are prevalent, sought to understand the behavior of coronaviruses circulating in bats that have the potential to cause widespread disease," the spokesperson said.
"The body of science produced by this research demonstrates that the bat coronavirus sequences published from that work NIH supported were not SARS-CoV-2.
"More importantly, because of similar research to understand coronaviruses, we were able to move swiftly to develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and save lives."