GOP senators review US government funding and promotion of research that may have created COVID-19

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Senators from a key Homeland Security subcommittee have argued for a full review of gain-of-function research, which opponents say could have created the COVID-19 virus, in a first-ever hearing Wednesday.

Gain-of-function research is broadly defined as any research or experimentation that can make a virus or disease more transmissible or deadly. President Barack Obama imposed a moratorium on such activity in 2014, but President Donald Trump lifted the ban in 2017. Although Trump established a committee within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reviewing the gain-of-function research proposals, critics like Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul argue that the body is indeed toothless.

Paul, the rank member on the Emerging Threats and Expenditure Oversight Subcommittee, said in his opening remarks that the hearing was necessary because of “the emerging threat posed by gain-of-function research.” Paul described the method as “controversial”, noting that it has the “potential to trigger a global pandemic that threatens the lives of millions”.

The HHS Framework to Guide Funding Decisions About Proposed Research Involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (P3COs) uses too narrow a definition of gain-of-function research to provide effective oversight of the proposals, agreed the participating GOP senators and the three scientists who testified. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, argued that under P3CO, the Wuhan Institute of Virology had not engaged in gain-of-function research. .

“In response to an October 2021 congressional inquiry last year, the NIH [National Institutes of Health] attempted to back down NIH director’s claims [Francis] Collins and Fauci that the NIH had not funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan, you commented at the time, saying, “NIH, especially Collins, Fauci and [Lawrence] Tabak has lied to Congress, lied to the press, and lied to the public knowingly, willfully, brazenly,” Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley said in an exchange with Rutgers University molecular biologist Dr. Ebright.

“Statements repeatedly made to the public, the press, and policy makers by NIAID Director Dr. Fauci have been false. I don’t understand why these statements are being made because they are patently false,” Ebright replied. (RELATED: Renowned molecular biologist accuses Fauci of lying to Congress about gain-of-function research)

“P3CO’s board does not enforce compliance. If the P3CO committee decides that the research cannot proceed, that decision is only advisory to the funding agency,” Ebright added.

Republican Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall pointed to Fauci’s earlier positions on gain-of-function research, noting that the president’s chief medical adviser Joe Biden felt more ambivalent about the practice less than a year ago. two decades.

“In 2012, these two scientists and 39 others implemented a voluntary pause in gain-of-function research in influenza experiments. In early 2012, Dr Fauci discouraged any gain-of-function flu and said: ‘It is essential that we respect the concerns of the public nationally or globally and do not ask them to take scientists’ word for it. flu,” Marshall said. .

“Again in 2012, Dr. Fauci also said, almost prophetically, that he was concerned about unregulated labs, possibly outside the United States, working carelessly and inadvertently leading to a pandemic. . And he went on to say, ‘The accidental release is what really worries the world,’” Marshall said quoting Fauci.

Paul told the hearing he was looking forward to introducing bipartisan gain-of-office funding legislation. Five Republicans, but no Democrats, participated in the hearing. Paul told reporters he hoped legislation creating an independent committee to review funding could be common ground for Republicans and Democrats. HHS does not disclose members of the P3CO review board, and senators have expressed concern that members may themselves receive funding for projects.

“We got the majority agreement, from Senator Hassan,” Paul said, agreeing he was discouraged by the lack of Democratic turnout. “But we were disappointed. I tried to manage it objectively, and not make it a partisan hearing, and try to talk about bipartisan ways to solve the problem. Our witnesses, none of them are partisan to my knowledge. I don’t know anything about their politics. I don’t think any of them are partisan.

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