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James Lankford

01/25/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/25/2023 18:12

Lankford, Marshall, Colleagues, Renew Effort to Place Moratorium on Federally-Funded Risky Gain-of-Function Projects

01.25.23

Lankford, Marshall, Colleagues, Renew Effort to Place Moratorium on Federally-Funded Risky Gain-of-Function Projects

WASHINGTON, DC - Today Senator James Lankford (R-OK) joined Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS) reintroduced the Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act, legislation to place a moratorium on all federal research grants involving risky gain-of-function research on potential pandemic pathogens. A new report from a federal watchdog agency concluded that the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) failed to meet key elements of its mandated oversight program responsibility.

"The Communist Chinese Party has worked hard to suppress information about COVID-19, including its origins and how they have used gain-of-function research," said Lankford. "We must expose this potentially dangerous research and any U.S. involvement to ensure accountability for the American people. I believe we should defund China's Wuhan Institute of Virology and end US support for any high-risk gain-of-function research. We must maintain a watchful eye on the schemes of the communist Chinese government."

"For the past few years, a select group of individuals at NIH and other federal agencies have undermined congressional oversight instead of being transparent or accountable to the American people," said Marshall. "This has hampered our ability to get to the bottom of the COVID-19 outbreak and gain a full understanding of how much taxpayers are subsidizing these dangerous activities. This new GAO report further bolsters the need to address NIH's failure in executing its oversight responsibilities of federally-funded research. Until the oversight process is reformed and adequate guidelines are in place to protect all of us from dangerous outbreaks, we must not allow any this research to continue."

Joining Lankford and Marshall's are Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

"In light of the GAO's new report, it has become abundantly clear that the NIH is currently incapable of properly enforcing statutorily mandated oversight standards. If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it's that there is no room for negligence in researching potential pandemic pathogens. These projects should not be allowed to continue until oversight is improved and safety guardrails become a guarantee," said Blackburn.

"American taxpayers should not be funding dangerous gain-of-function projects abroad, like those conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It's our obligation to put a stop to these risky experiments to ensure that these enhanced pandemic pathogens are not accidentally or deliberately released into the world. I'm proud to sign onto this bill calling for an immediate moratorium on federally-funded gain-of-function research projects in hopes that other nations worldwide - like China - will follow suit," said Braun.

"There is significant evidence that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which received gain-of-research grants and funding. Similar research programs should not receive any funding until we can confirm where COVID-19 came from, and what can be done to prevent another global crisis," said Cotton.

"Even as Dr. Fauci denies it, there is strong evidence COVID-19 started in a lab in Wuhan," said Dr. Paul. "However, if we have learned anything from this pandemic, it's that risky virus enhancing research - like the type conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, also funded by the U.S. government - is an unnecessary form of science that could lead to the death of millions of people. The Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act puts a stop to federal research grants to universities and organizations that participate in this type of research, ensuring that taxpayer money will no longer be used to fund deadly manmade viruses."

"More than three years after the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, serious questions remain regarding its origins and possible connection to federally-funded gain of function research in China. The American people deserve to know the truth. Until a full and transparent investigation is guaranteed and real oversight is imposed on this risky line of research, no taxpayer dollars should be squandered by unelected bureaucrats operating in the dark," said Rubio.

"The dereliction of oversight duty at the NIH is not only unacceptable, it's dangerous," said Tuberville. "The United States should not spend another penny of taxpayer funds on unaccountable gain-of-function research programs that have proven to be a risk to public health. Congress needs to demand transparency and oversight from all of our public health officials, especially for the billions of dollars sent to their agencies over the past few years."

"Taxpayers should not have to finance research that could lead to another disastrous pandemic," Wicker said. "It is clear there has been a failure of oversight, and it would be irresponsible to let this work move forward."

Additionally, the Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act was endorsed by the White Coat Waste Project upon introduction.

"We applaud Senator Marshall and his colleagues for their outstanding leadership to ensure taxpayers aren't forced to bankroll dangerous, wasteful, and widely-opposed gain-of-function animal experiments that probably sparked this pandemic and will cause another if action isn't taken," said Justin Goodman, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy for White Coast Waste Project. "As the government watchdog that first exposed taxpayer funding for the Wuhan animal lab, we proudly support the Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act. Stop the money. Stop the madness!"

Background

The Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act is in response to congressional inquiries and various investigations revealing national security concerns about NIH authorizing dangerous research that may have contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General released a report finding NIH failed to meet federal requirements for overseeing EcoHealth Alliance awards and subawards. Specifically, the policing agency responsible for oversight of HHS reviewed 150 EcoHealth Alliance transactions totaling nearly $2.6 million and missed opportunities to properly review the research and take timely corrective actions in mitigating risks that can threaten public health. The audit builds on other work from another federal watchdog agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Last week (GAO) released a report finding that the HHS does not fully meet the key elements of effective oversight and allows for subjective and potentially inconsistent interpretations of the requirement-leaving HHS without assurance the department is reviewing all necessary research proposals.

The NIH has historically applied a broad and inconsistent definition of gain-of-function (GoF) research that could be applied uniquely to allow controversial experiments to forego review. GoF is a research process that aims to genetically alter a virus or organism to gain (or lose) function on its transmissibility or pathogenicity. However, viral GoF on infectious diseases places great risk to global health as it directly aims to alter viruses deadly to people. Recognizing the threat of GoF research and biosecurity issues in lab facilities, White House officials placed a moratoriumon this work in 2014. However, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases continued funding GoF research under exceptions to the moratorium. In 2017 - with key cabinet appointments vacant or pending Senate confirmation - NIH successfully advocated in lifting the moratorium.

Senator Marshall has actively worked to improve oversight of this risky federally-funded research. Last Congress, he asked for unanimous consent to pass two of his bills that would establish guardrails on GoF research, but was blocked by the Democratic Majority. He also led a group of Senators calling on the White House to reinstate the government-wide moratorium on GoF research. The November 2022 letter detailed concerns about the ambiguity of existing guidelines for this dangerous research.

Additionally, Senator Marshall successfully championed several provisions to improve biosecurity and biosafety in the PREVENT Pandemics Act that was recently signed into law. His amendment, adopted by unanimous consent during a HELP Committee markup, prohibits HHS funding from risky research conducted by foreign entities at facilities in countries of concern. Specifically, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence is expected to produce a list of countries to the health agencies within 60 days of enactment, effectively banning current and future collaboration with organizations that threaten national security and public health.

To learn more about Senator Marshall's oversight efforts of GoF research, click here.

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