Scientists Demand to See Wuhan Lab Coronavirus Data From EcoHealth Alliance

Scientists have called on EcoHealth Alliance (EHA) to make its coronavirus research data public amid an ongoing debate over whether COVID may have originated from a lab.

The U.S.-based organization has worked for years to research bat viruses with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is based in the city where the first COVID cases were reported.

Last week the National Institutes of Health (NIH) ordered EHA to hand over any unpublished coronavirus research data it held. The U.S. medical research agency accused EHA of failing to immediately report findings that showed how an engineered bat coronavirus made mice sicker than a normal version. The NIH said that not reporting this immediately violated the terms of funding it had given EHA.

In a letter dated Tuesday seen by The Wall Street Journal and published on Thursday, Peter Daszak, the president of EHA, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the organization and said it reported the mouse data to the NIH in 2018 as part of its Year 4 report. He said the NIH did not raise any concerns at the time.

Daszak confirmed EHA had this week supplied the unpublished coronavirus research data to the NIH as requested, including virus sequencing data as well as "new analyses." He said that these analyses were in the process of being made public following peer-review.

The EHA president told The Wall Street Journal the organization intends to "get all of the work we did in China made public, through peer-reviewed papers as soon as humanly possible."

But scientists have criticized EHA's decision to put its coronavirus research analysis through peer-review before making it public and demanded greater transparency from both the organization and the NIH.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, tweeted in a response to the letter: "'As soon as humanly possible' is not a timeline. There is no reason why sequence data from bat coronaviruses obtained in field collections should be withheld until peer review is complete.

"This entire messy s***show is the result of EHA and NIH both not being forthcoming with data generated with taxpayer funding."

"As soon as humanly possible" is not a timeline. There is no reason why sequence data from bat CoVs obtained in field collections should be withheld until peer review is complete. Depositing such data in a public repository isn't going to hurt a paper's chances in peer review.

— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) October 28, 2021

Rasmussen also called on the NIH to respond to EHA's claims that the aforementioned mouse study data had been released back in 2018.

Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, called on all relevant journals to immediately publish all EHA-WIV data submitted since 2017, even if it was rejected or revised.

This is unacceptable.

Daszak: “We’re going to continue our efforts to get all of the work we did in China made public through peer-reviewed papers”

I call on all journals to immediately publish all EcoHealth-WIV manuscripts+data submitted since 2017 even if rejected or revised.

— Alina Chan (@Ayjchan) October 29, 2021

And Craig Kaplan, an associate professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, tweeted: "What about good faith criticism? They absolutely need to share the data."

Newsweek has contacted EHA for comment.

The NIH told Newsweek it is "carefully reviewing the information provided in response to its inquiries and is not commenting on its current internal deliberations."

Ian Jones, professor of virology at the U.K.'s University of Reading, told Newsweek he found Daszak's response "reasonable" but said it was unlikely the issue would go away.

Amid the debate over when the data was reported, both the NIH and EHA have stated that the experiments could not have resulted in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID pandemic.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), last week issued a statement refuting "misinformation" about the origins of COVID.

Jones said: "The spat between the NIH and EcoHealth Alliance illustrates a real conundrum in current infectious disease research. It needs to be done to be ahead of the game in the event of a new outbreak but the research itself necessarily treads close to the edge in terms of modifying organisms so that they become the very agent that is feared.

"Policing the work to ensure this does not happen becomes burdensome for the funder and recipient alike so timelines slip, emails go unanswered.

"The fact that the issues here relate to the modification of coronaviruses and the Wuhan lab adds the unwelcome dimension that the work could have underpinned the creation of a SARS-CoV-2 like virus, although this is strongly disputed."

Jones said: "There will always be those who think this type of work should not be done and who will leap on cases like this to support their view."

This article has been updated with comment from Ian Jones and the NIH.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
A photo shows security personnel outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, on February 3 2021. EcoHealth has worked with the institute to study bat coronaviruses. Hector Retamal/AFP / Getty