Senate Republican Secures Potential Knockout Blow Against EcoHealth Alliance, the Group Tied to Wuhan Gain-Of-Function Experiments

Top NIH official admitted in May that EcoHealth Alliance engaged in gain-of-function research in Wuhan

Senator Joni Ernst
Senator Joni Ernst (Getty Images)
June 20, 2024

It could be the end of the line for EcoHealth Alliance, the virus hunting group that conducted risky experiments on bat coronaviruses in Wuhan, China, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) said the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously passed her amendment to the 2025 National Defense Authorization Act to close all potential pathways for EcoHealth Alliance to receive further federal defense funding. The move comes after National Institutes of Health principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak admitted during a congressional hearing in May that EcoHealth Alliance used federal funding to conduct gain-of-function research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The experiments, which resulted in far more infectious versions of the naturally occurring bat coronavirus, caused the COVID-19 outbreak, some virologists say.

The Department of Health and Human Services in May suspended EcoHealth Alliance from federal funding in May and initiated debarment proceedings against the organization and its president, Peter Daszak, which would ban the group from receiving any federal funding for three years.

Ernst’s amendment takes the ban a step further, banning any future defense funding not only for EcoHealth Alliance, but any subsidiary of the disgraced group.

"Defense dollars should be spent protecting our country, not paying for more of EcoHealth’s batty experiments," Ernst told the Washington Free Beacon. "This shady organization has managed to avoid accountability time and time again. My amendment slams the door shut on any possibility for deep state bureaucrats to find another roundabout way to restore funding for the group’s risky research."

The ban, if enacted into law, will likely have a devastating effect on EcoHealth Alliance’s bottom line. The group is largely dependent on federal funding, raking in more than $94 million in taxpayer funds since 2008, Fox News reported. The group infamously gave $600,000 of that funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to conduct experiments on viruses closely related to the one that causes COVID-19 just prior to the initial outbreak in late 2019.

EcoHealth Alliance has a history of wiggling out of federal funding bans, however. The Department of Health and Human Services first suspended the group during the final year of the Trump administration in 2020 over its coronavirus work in Wuhan. The Biden administration reversed that funding ban in 2023, only to suspend the group again in May.

Nor is this the first time Ernst has pushed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to cut EcoHealth Alliance from federal defense funding. The Iowa Republican introduced a similar resolution in the 2024 version of the bill that passed both the House and Senate.

But Ernst’s 2024 amendment didn’t make it to the final version of the bill. A person familiar with the process said her amendment was removed from the final version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act at the last minute during the closed-door conference process between the House and Senate.

It’s unclear if Ernst’s 2025 amendment will meet a similar fate, but Congress and the Biden administration appear to have unified in their opposition to EcoHealth Alliance after Tabak, the principal deputy director of the National Institutes of Health, admitted before Congress in May that the NIH and EcoHealth engaged in gain-of-function research with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

"It depends on your definition of gain-of-function research," Tabak said. "If you’re speaking about the generic term, yes, we did."

EcoHealth Alliance maintains that it is "categorically untrue" that it engaged in gain-of-function research in Wuhan.