A group of 77 Nobel laureates has sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, requesting an investigation into the cancellation a $3 million federal grant to EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based research institution that studies global transmission of viruses from animal hosts to humans. The group had collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China on research on coronaviruses in bats.
The grant was terminated on April 24, 2020, several days after it gained media attention from an interaction between President Donald Trump and a reporter at a news conference, where the reporter misrepresented the grant as awarding money to investigators in Wuhan. President Trump insisted the grant be ended immediately. Following the event, Peter Daszak, PhD, head of EcoHealth Alliance, was contacted by the NIH regarding his work with the institute in Wuhan. He was subsequently informed that the renewal of his grant had been cancelled because the project did not “align with [NIH] goals and agency priorities.”
The Nobel laureates’ letter criticized the NIH’s decision to cancel the grant given the relevance of Dr. Daszak’s research to the current pandemic. The letter calls for a “a thorough review of the actions that led to the decision to terminate the grant,” and requests that the NIH takes “appropriate steps to rectify the injustices that may have been committed in revoking it.”
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology also submitted a letter of protest to the NIH on behalf of 31 scientific societies, arguing that the grant cancelation politicized science and should be reconsidered.
EcoHealth Alliance is still conducting research around the globe but has no ongoing research in China.