An open letter has been written to US President Donald Trump, by top US Administration official and 77 Nobel winning American scientists saying that they are "gravely concerned" about the abrupt cancellation of a federal grant to a non-profit organization of the US researching coronaviruses in China.
The move was announced almost a month back, the scientists respond that it "sets a dangerous precedent by interfering in the conduct of science," while depriving the world of science helping in controlling the "greatest health crises in modern history" and also those potential to arise in the future, reports NPR.
The group EcoHealth Alliance hunts for viruses in bats globally for many years by checking the blood and saliva samples of bats to predict new coronavirus outbreaks and pandemics, as reported previously. Last year, almost $4 million funds were granted to EcoHealth Alliance by the NIH for the next five years of research.
Why Grants Were Stopped
After suspicions were raised among US officials that the Wuhan Institute of Virology accidentally released the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19. While EcoHealth Alliance had also partnered with the Wuhan's Institute for research.
Even after research resulted in telling that coronavirus was not lab bred, the theory continued. In a White House press conference, President Trump had implied [erroneously] that the full grant to the Alliance in question went to the Wuhan Institute of China, after which the NIH terminated the funding.
It Stopped Access to Share Research Data
As a result of the move, EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak told NPR that in addition to losing the capacity to look for new viruses in China, many international researchers have lost access to the huge data collected by his team on many coronavirus samples, which they usually share. This included data from the 2002 SARS outbreak to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nobel Laureates Call it 'Preposterous'
NIH email informed EcoHealth that the grant termination happened as the alliance did not align with NIH goals and priorities. This Friday, 77 Nobel laureates dismissed the act as "preposterous," in their letter signed by those from the fields of medicine, chemistry, and physics representing honorees from almost every year since 1975.
The letter was addressed to the head of the NIH and also Trump's cabinet member Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services overseeing the agency. Nobel laureates call for a "thorough review of the actions that led to the decision to terminate the grant" and "appropriate steps to rectify the injustices that may have been committed in revoking it."