Texas bill would ban taxpayer funding for gain-of-function research amid COVID-19 origins hunt

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Security personnel gather near the entrance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization team in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Texas bill would ban taxpayer funding for gain-of-function research amid COVID-19 origins hunt

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A new bill has been introduced in Texas that would ban taxpayer cash from going to gain-of-function research as the controversial method continues to be blamed by some experts for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas State Sen. Bob Hall (R) put forward a bill on Monday related to “prohibiting institutions of higher education or entities receiving public funds from conducting gain of function research on potentially pandemic pathogens.” The FBI and Energy Department believe COVID-19 most likely originated through a lab leak in Wuhan, and Republicans at the national and state level have expressed concerns about the National Institutes of Health funding coronavirus experiments at the Wuhan lab.

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“There are some that are concerned that the COVID-19 virus was a product of gain-of-function research and that steps need to be taken to prevent another such pandemic,” Hall said in his explanation of the proposal. “This bill would define gain of function on potentially pandemic pathogens and prohibit institutions of higher education in Texas from conducting this type of research.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under former President Donald Trump, testified this month that it was likely that U.S. taxpayer dollars funded gain-of-function research which contributed to the origination of SARS-CoV-2.

Redfield testified that the Wuhan lab “absolutely” conducted gain-of-function research on coronaviruses and that there was “no doubt” that NIH was funding such research. “While many believe that gain-of-function research is critical to get ahead of viruses by developing vaccines, in this case, I believe it was the exact opposite — unleashing a new virus to the world without any means of stopping it and resulting in the deaths of millions of people,” he said.

The Texas move was praised by one professor who has supported the lab leak theory. “This is an important step. Legislators in all fifty states should follow suit and introduce bills calling for state bans on enhancing potential pandemic pathogens,” Richard Ebright, the lab director for the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University, told the Washington Examiner.

The move comes after Trump’s Education Department launched an April 2020 investigation into the University of Texas (UT) and its financial ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) as part of a broader investigation of foreign funding by China and other countries on U.S. campuses.

The letter said UT’s Medical Branch (UTMB) was responsible for the operation of the Galveston National Laboratory (GNL), which, in turn, had “substantial contractual relations” with a maximum biocontainment laboratory in Wuhan. That Chinese government lab was the WIV.

UTMB released a statement that month saying the GNL “has hosted Chinese scientists for training to work in the high-containment lab.”

The Education Department announced the closure of its UT inquiry in November 2020 while noting that “UT’s impressive ongoing research and development activities, often supported by federal taxpayer funds, warrant continued heightened vigilance.”

It was revealed in April 2022 that UTMB’s GNL and the WIV had an agreement to collaborate on scientific research, with the Chinese lab entitled to ask the Texas lab to “destroy” any “secret files.” U.S. Right to Know published the late 2017 memorandum of understanding, which was signed by UTMB “coordinator” James LeDuc and WIV “coordinator” Yuan Zhiming.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) sent a letter to LeDuc in July 2022 asking for details and contending that “it is concerning that any public institution receiving federal government funding would enter into a cooperation agreement with an entity controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) reintroduced the Viral Gain-of-Function Research Moratorium Act in January 2023, where they were joined by eight other GOP senators.

House Republicans in June 2021 pushed the similar Foreign Gain-of-Function Research Prevention Act. They were led by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), now the chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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“Evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 likely leaked from a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and we must continue pressing to uncover the truth,” Wenstrup said at the time. “Regardless, the pandemic has exposed that U.S. taxpayer dollars have been funneled to the very lab that conducts this sensitive and dangerous research.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed last month that the FBI has long believed COVID-19 originated at a Chinese government lab, and it was recently revealed the Energy Department now believes with “low confidence” that the coronavirus started at a Wuhan lab.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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