US watchdog to review of NIH grants, funding to Wuhan lab

The US federal government investigators have announced plans to launch a review into how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) manages and monitors its grant programme, which also includes funding to controversial ‘gain of function’ research at China’s Wuhan lab, media reports said.

The comprehensive review also coincides with renewed questions over the origin of the Covid-19 virus and the potential role that China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology may have played, CNN reported.

“We share stakeholders’ concerns regarding compliance and oversight of NIH grant funds. We have been monitoring this issue for some time and consider it a high-priority matter that can pose a threat to the integrity of the NIH grant programme,” Tesia Williams, the director of communications for the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, was quoted as saying on CNN.

“Based on our preliminary research and analysis, HHS-OIG (Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General) has decided to conduct an extensive audit reviewing how NIH monitored selected grants and how the grantees and subgrantees used and managed federal funds between years 2014 through 2021,” Williams said.

Dr Anthony Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within the NIH, had confirmed to lawmakers earlier this year that hundreds of thousands of dollars that the NIH had given to the New York-based global nonprofit went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study coronaviruses in bats.

“About $600,000 was spent over a five-year period,” Fauci said during a congressional budget hearing. “That comes to anywhere between $125 (thousand) and $150,000 per year that went to collaboration with Wuhan.”

Questions have also been raised on NIH’s relationship with EcoHealth Alliance, the global nonprofit that helped fund some research at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, to attack Fauci, CNN said.

The role of US funding to the gain of function experiments also came under scrutiny after Fauci’s emails recently were made public.

Peter Daszak, head at EcoHealth Alliance, in an email sent last April thanked Fauci for publicly stating that scientific evidence does not support the lab-leak theory.

Daszak praised Fauci calling him “brave” for seeking to debunk the lab leak theory.

Roughly 80 per cent of NIH funding goes to supporting research grants, including grants to foreign organisations. According to the work plan on the review, it will look at how these grants are monitored and make sure the recipient’s use and management of NIH grant funds is in accordance with federal requirements, CNN said.