Read the story here. Advertise at Before It's News here.
Profile image
By Reason Magazine (Reporter)
Contributor profile | More stories
Story Views
Last hour:
Last 24 hours:

In Congress, Debate Rages About How To Prevent the Next Lab Leak

% of readers think this story is Fact. Add your two cents.

Sens. Rand Paul and Gary Peters | Annabelle Gordon - CNP/CNP / Polaris/Newscom

At a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this week, Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) asked why there’s “so much energy” around the question of whether the pandemic began in a lab or spilled over from a natural source.

“We’ll never be 100 percent sure about one or the other,” said Romney. “Given that it could have been either, we know what action we need to take to protect from either….One, we should clean up the wet markets. And two, tighten the labs.”

In recent months, the idea that COVID might have originated from a lab, and specifically the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has been upgraded in the discourse from a “conspiracy theory” to a plausible explanation for how the pandemic began.

Simultaneously, people who are often skeptical or agnostic about a lab leak have argued that definitively answering the question of COVID’s origins is of secondary importance. Rather, we should be focused on preventing the next pandemic.

In this vein, last month, the Biden administration released new guidance for how research-funding agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should vet proposed experiments involving pathogens of enhanced pandemic potential—the subset of so-called “gain of function” research that could potentially cause a disease outbreak via a lab leak.

This new guidance “will enable the oversight system for research involving biological agents and toxins to better address these risks,” reads the text of the White House’s new policy.

Critics of the new policy argue that it suffers from the same flaws that undermined past government guidance on the funding of potentially pandemic-causing gain-of-function research.

“The administration says that this is done. ‘We’ve issued some guidance, we’ve changed some of the recommendations from NIH, and we’ve fixed the problem’,” Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) tells Reason. “The problem is that’s sort of the fox fixing the problems for regulating the hen house.”

The federal government has gone through multiple policies intended to subject gain-of-function research on potential pandemic pathogens to some risk-benefit analysis and to prevent funding of the most dangerous experiments.

That includes the Obama administration’s pause on gain-of-function research funding in 2014 and the later Framework for Guiding Funding Decisions about Proposed Research Involving Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogens (P3CO) in 2017.

Both the Obama administration pause and the P3CO framework have widely been considered to be ineffective. Both policies ultimately left the NIH in charge of deciding which of the experiments it funds should get additional, outside review.

Under the now-superseded P3CO framework, the NIH sent only three research proposals up the chain to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for risk-benefit analysis. The NIH greenlit everything else that plausibly should have been sent up the chain for review.

Most controversially, that includes NIH-funded research conducted by the New York–based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, which involved creating hybrid SARS-like viruses capable of infecting human lung cells.

Proponents of the lab leak origins of COVID point to this research as likely leading to the creation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the Wuhan lab. This research would pretty plainly seem to implicate both the 2014 pause and the later P3CO framework. But when the NIH became aware of EcoHealth’s work creating new viruses, it continued to fund the work without ever sending its experiments up the chain for additional review.

Even skeptics of the lab leak origins of COVID-19 argue that the NIH’s continued funding of EcoHealth’s Wuhan work revealed a weakness in federal oversight of pandemic research.

The Biden administration has since stripped EcoHealth of federal funding over its failure to report all of its experiments to its NIH funders and its failure to properly oversee the work of its subgrantees at the Wuhan lab.

The Biden administration’s new policy on the funding of pandemic research is intended to correct for these flaws in the past system by expanding the list of pathogens and biological agents of potential concern and making it more explicit when the NIH should send research involving those pathogens up the chain to the HHS for additional, department-level review.

“There is a little bit more clarity that anything that’s identified [as a potential pandemic pathogen] needs to be sent directly up to department-level review,” Gregory Koblentz, a biosafety expert and George Mason University professor who testified at this week’s Senate COVID origins hearing, told Reason back in May.

Nevertheless, he says, “there’s still a lot of latitude for researchers and for the funding agencies, to decide if something is an experiment of concern,” he said. “There’s still going to be a lot of judgment calls. There’s still going to be a lot of room for decisions that might not be unanimous.”

In that way, the Biden administration’s latest policy would seem to suffer from the same core flaws of the Obama administration pause and the P3CO framework: The NIH and the researchers it funds are still in the position to decide which experiments get additional review and which don’t.

“The people that are overseeing the research need to be independent of the grant-making process,” says Paul. “If you’re receiving and dispensing [research] grants, which runs into billions of dollars, you’re conflicted. It’s just too hard for you to make the decision.”

Paul is currently drafting legislation that would create an independent body tasked with vetting potentially dangerous pandemic research.

The scientists who are the most publicly skeptical of a lab leak origin of COVID-19 will often argue that overly zealous oversight of government research funding could unnecessarily hamper life science research.

“You’re going to really cripple the biomedical research enterprise” if you define gain-of-function research subject to additional regulation too broadly, said Robert Garry, a researcher and associate dean of medicine at Tulane University, at the hearing earlier this week.

Garry was one of the authors of the influential, controversial “proximal origin” piece published in Nature in March 2020 that dismissed the idea that SARS-CoV-2 could have been man-made.

Recently uncovered communications show the authors of the proximal origins paper, including Garry, were much more open to the idea of a lab leak in their private conversations than they were in drafting that paper.

The fact that those conducting and funding potentially dangerous pandemic research have for so long successfully resisted independent oversight of their work is why the investigation into the lab leak origins of COVID is so important, argues Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist and professor at Rutgers University who testified at the hearing this week.

“Only after there is an acknowledgment that there is a very real possibility, not a remote possibility, of a lab origin, will there be a political will to impose regulation on this scientific community that has successfully resisted and obstructed regulation for two decades,” he said in response to Romney’s question about why a lab leak matters.

The post In Congress, Debate Rages About How To Prevent the Next Lab Leak appeared first on


Before It’s News® is a community of individuals who report on what’s going on around them, from all around the world.

Anyone can join.
Anyone can contribute.
Anyone can become informed about their world.

"United We Stand" Click Here To Create Your Personal Citizen Journalist Account Today, Be Sure To Invite Your Friends.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Nootropic

Mushrooms are having a moment. One fabulous fungus in particular, lion’s mane, may help improve memory, depression and anxiety symptoms. They are also an excellent source of nutrients that show promise as a therapy for dementia, and other neurodegenerative diseases. If you’re living with anxiety or depression, you may be curious about all the therapy options out there — including the natural ones.Our Lion’s Mane WHOLE MIND Nootropic Blend has been formulated to utilize the potency of Lion’s mane but also include the benefits of four other Highly Beneficial Mushrooms. Synergistically, they work together to Build your health through improving cognitive function and immunity regardless of your age. Our Nootropic not only improves your Cognitive Function and Activates your Immune System, But it benefits growth of Essential Gut Flora, further enhancing your Vitality.

Our Formula includes: Lion’s Mane Mushrooms which Increase Brain Power through nerve growth, lessen anxiety, reduce depression, and improve concentration. Its an excellent adaptogen, promotes sleep and improves immunity.

Shiitake Mushrooms which Fight cancer cells and infectious disease, boost the immune system, promotes brain function, and serves as a source of B vitamins.

Maitake Mushrooms which regulate blood sugar levels of diabetics, reduce hypertension and boosts the immune system.

Reishi Mushrooms which Fight inflammation, liver disease, fatigue, tumor growth and cancer. They Improve skin disorders and soothes digestive problems, stomach ulcers and leaky gut syndrome.

Chaga Mushrooms which have anti-aging effects, boost immune function, improve stamina and athletic performance, even act as a natural aphrodisiac, fighting diabetes and improving liver function.

Try Our Lion’s Mane WHOLE MIND Nootropic Blend 60 Capsules Today. Be 100% Satisfied or Receive a Full Money Back Guarantee. Order Yours Today by Following This Link.

Report abuse


Your Comments
Question   Razz  Sad   Evil  Exclaim  Smile  Redface  Biggrin  Surprised  Eek   Confused   Cool  LOL   Mad   Twisted  Rolleyes   Wink  Idea  Arrow  Neutral  Cry   Mr. Green

Load more ...




Email this story
Email this story

If you really want to ban this commenter, please write down the reason:

If you really want to disable all recommended stories, click on OK button. After that, you will be redirect to your options page.