Fauci still non-answering questions about funding gain of function research in Wuhan

I’ve seen him questioned about GOF in Wuhan at least three times now and his answers always boil down to “It wasn’t gain of function because it just wasn’t. Read NIH’s protocol.”

Even allowing for the fact that scientists disagree about what constitutes true “gain of function” and that the technical distinctions are beyond the ken of the average person, he should at least attempt an explanation on the merits at some point. He’s not discouraging doubt about his honesty by hand-waving this stuff away as if it’s beneath his dignity to respond to it. To the contrary.

Read this if you missed it last week as necessary background for George Stephanopoulos’s question. HHS admitted a few days ago that EcoHealth Alliance had used NIH grant money to fund experiments in Wuhan on chimeric viruses. Scientists took a known bat coronavirus and then spliced the spike proteins from other recently discovered bat coronaviruses and tested it on mice genetically engineered to have human-type cell receptors. Result: The mice got much sicker than they’d normally get when exposed to that known bat coronavirus.

Isn’t that gain of function, Stephanopoulos asked Fauci? Not at all, he replied. It just wasn’t. Read the protocol.

Fauci and his boss, Francis Collins, have been at pains to explain that the Frankenstein viruses that Wuhan researchers spliced together in the experiment funded by EcoHealth couldn’t conceivably have led to the coronavirus that causes COVID. They’re too genetically dissimilar. Fauci’s non-answers about GOF always come back to that fact, partly because he recognizes that Rand Paul and other Republicans are trying to breed suspicion that the pandemic was funded by U.S. tax dollars.

But Fauci has said under oath, repeatedly, that NIH didn’t fund GOF research of any sort in Wuhan. The admission from HHS would appear to contradict that. This is no longer a question of whether the EcoHealth experiment created SARS-CoV-2, it’s a question of whether Fauci has been perjuring himself in congressional testimony — possibly because he fears that if he admits to funding any type of GOF experiments in Wuhan, Americans will make the leap to assuming that Fauci and NIH are behind the pandemic.

You don’t get to lie to Congress because you’re afraid the public will jump to a false conclusion if you tell the truth.

Fauci’s agency issued a statement last week elaborating on what the Wuhan research funded by EcoHealth did and didn’t do:

Coronaviruses use a protein called spike to bind to a protein on the surface of a host cell to facilitate infection. Some coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-1 (the cause of the SARS outbreak in 2003) and SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic), use the angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) protein to help enter and infect host cells. In order to study animal coronaviruses circulating in nature, the investigators replaced the spike protein from a well-characterized bat coronavirus, WIV1-CoV, with the spike protein of animal coronaviruses recently discovered in bats in China. Using techniques common in virology, experiments involved a single round of infection in several cell lines, and in some cases, in mice that were genetically modified to express the human version of ACE2. All other aspects of the mice, including the immune system, remained unchanged. The ACE2 transgenic mice were used to determine if spike proteins from bat coronaviruses discovered in China were capable of binding human ACE2, and therefore, whether the bat coronaviruses themselves, which were already present in the environment, could potentially infect humans and cause disease. WIV1-CoV is not known to cause infection in humans but has been shown in the laboratory to infect both human cells and ACE2 transgenic mice (ref), making it an ideal tool to use for these studies.

You can see their defense coalescing here: The researchers weren’t trying to create a superbug by splicing the known virus with the unknown spike protein, they were simply testing to see how that Frankenstein virus would affect human cells. They got a surprise when it turned out to be much more virulent than the known virus. (The HHS letter stresses that this was inadvertent, saying, “As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do.”) Do you need sinister intent to violate NIH’s protocol on gain of function research, though? On the one hand, the protocol defines “potential pandemic pathogen” this way:

If the Wuhan researchers didn’t have reason to believe that the chimera viruses they created would prove to be much more virulent than the known virus then arguably it’s not true GOF research. The bad intent is missing. On the other hand, the same NIH protocol says in its preamble that it’s “intended to guide HHS funding decisions on individual proposed research that is reasonably anticipated to create, transfer, or use enhanced PPPs.” Was it reasonable to anticipate that splicing a newly discovered spike protein onto a known virus might create a PPP?

I mean, I would think so. I’m not a scientist, but when you go around making Frankensteins you shouldn’t be surprised if one them ends up wrecking the lab.

Biologist Richard Ebright, a dogged critic of Fauci’s slipperiness on funding GOF research, put together this primer for laymen over the weekend on what’s going on here. The bottom line: Fauci and NIH kept giving EcoHealth grant money even though it was late to report what happened during the Wuhan experiment. And Fauci knew about the experiment when he testified before Congress earlier this year, so why was he still insisting that his agency never funded GOF in Wuhan? Click to enlarge and read it in full.

When exactly did Fauci find out what the Wuhan researchers were up to? Was it really not until this year or did he know about it years ago and kept the money flowing to EcoHealth anyway?

An NIH spokesperson told Vanity Fair that Dr. Fauci was “entirely truthful in his statements to Congress,” and that he did not have the progress report that detailed the controversial research at the time he testified in July. But EcoHealth Alliance appeared to contradict that claim, and said in a statement: “These data were reported as soon as we were made aware, in our year four report in April 2018.”

Dr. Fauci’s spokesperson told Vanity Fair that EcoHealth Alliance’s research did not fall under [gain of function], since the experiments being funded “were not reasonably expected to increase transmissibility or virulence in humans.”

I think that’s what his position boils down to. If you want to create Frankenstein viruses in the lab out of parts harvested from nature just to see what will happen when human cells are exposed to them, have at it. But if you’re creating Frankenstein viruses expecting that they’ll be more dangerous to human beings, that’s where the line is drawn.

Seems sub-optimal if what we’re worried about is a newly created virus escaping from the lab and causing a pandemic, whatever the motivation behind the creation of that virus was.

Now that we know EcoHealth has been shady in not updating its reports to NIH in a timely way, suspicion will steer around to whether they also haven’t been forthcoming about other work being done in Wuhan. Vanity Fair notes the recent discovery that EcoHealth had applied for (but didn’t receive) a grant several years ago to fund research on creating furin cleavage sites in the spike protein of bat coronaviruses, which is precisely what makes SARS-CoV-2 so dangerous to humans and was previously unknown in nature among the particular subset of viruses to which the novel coronavirus belongs. There’s no proof that EcoHealth eventually scrounged up the money somewhere and funded that research and of course no proof that any such research created SARS-CoV-2, but as one scientist put it to Vanity Fair, “If I applied for funding to paint Central Park purple and was denied, but then a year later we woke up to find Central Park painted purple, I’d be a prime suspect.”

Oh, by the way: No, Stephanopoulos didn’t ask Fauci about the horrific experiments on dogs in Tunisia that were also apparently funded with NIH grant money. I can’t wait to read the protocol on that one.