DARPA Denies Funding Wuhan Institute of Virology Amid Alleged Document Leak

DARPA, the U.S. advanced research projects agency, has denied funding research activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) after a group released documents allegedly detailing a coronavirus research proposal.

Newsweek cannot confirm the veracity of the DRASTIC group or the existence of the Project DEFUSE documents described. The group says the documents were provided anonymously.

DRASTIC is a group of activists who say they are working towards solving the "riddle" of the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is behind the COVID pandemic. They say they were given documents by an anonymous source which detail something called "Project DEFUSE."

According to what appear to be funding proposal excerpts published by DRASTIC, Project DEFUSE aimed to reduce the threat of bat-borne coronaviruses through research and was headed by Peter Daszak, president of the U.S.-based research organization EcoHealth Alliance (EHA). It would have run between 2018 and 2022.

DRASTIC states the research proposal would have involved "advanced and dangerous" research into bat coronaviruses in cooperation with the WIV and other facilities, and said the research would qualify as Gain of Function (GoF)—a process that can be used to make viruses more dangerous so that humans can investigate them and improve understanding.

However, DRASTIC said the documents showed that DARPA rejected the DEFUSE proposal in part because of GoF concerns. DRASTIC did not publicly release the actual document it said it had seen.

In a statement to Newsweek, DARPA denied funding any activity associated with EHA or the WIV. A spokesman said: "In accordance with U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulations, we are not at liberty to divulge who may have or may not have not submitted a proposal in response to any of the agency's solicitations. Further, information contained within bids is considered proprietary and can only be released by the bidder.

"That being said, DARPA has never funded directly, nor indirectly as a subcontractor, any activity or researcher associated with the EcoHealth Alliance or Wuhan Institute of Virology."

Newsweek has contacted Peter Daszak and EHA for comment. Newsweek has also contacted UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke-National University in Singapore, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) and Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which DRASTIC says are also mentioned in the documents, for comment. Newsweek was unable to contact the WIV.

GoF research into coronaviruses has been a hot topic recently, since many are concerned that SARS-CoV-2 could have been accidentally leaked from a lab, sparking the pandemic.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for instance, has already denied approving grants that would have supported GoF research on coronaviruses.

Investigation into the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is ongoing. In August, President Joe Biden received a report from the intelligence community into the matter that came back inconclusive. He had ordered the report back in May in the hope of getting closer to a conclusion.

Earlier this year, after the World Health Organization (WHO) completed its initial investigation into the origins of COVID by visiting Wuhan, several nations jointly expressed concerns that the study was "significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples."

The study had concluded that the lab leak theory was "extremely unlikely" at the time.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a virus research center in Wuhan, China, seen in February 2021 as a World Health Organization (WHO) investigation team arrive. The facility has become a hot topic amid unconfirmed theories that COVID may have leaked from a lab. Hector Retamal/AFP / Getty