The Biden administration is taking steps to impose a 10-year ban on funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese research laboratory at the center of a heated debate over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a memo made public by a House subcommittee on Tuesday evening and an official familiar with the issue.
The memo, written by an official in the Department of Health and Human Services, said the institute had failed to comply with repeated requests from the National Institutes of Health for laboratory notebooks and other documents necessary to establish its safety practices.
The N.I.H.’s conclusion that the Wuhan institute “likely violated protocols of the N.I.H. regarding biosafety is undisputed,” wrote the official, whose name was redacted. The memo said that suspension of funding was necessary to “mitigate any potential public health risk,” and that there was “adequate evidence” to initiate “debarment proceedings.”
The institute, which has not received any federal money since 2020, now has 30 days to respond to the notice.
The memo was made public Tuesday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic; its existence was first reported by Bloomberg. Republicans on the House panel have repeatedly asserted that the virus was the product of a laboratory leak, and have trained their attention on research conducted by the Wuhan Institute.
After the outbreak of the pandemic, the Trump administration terminated a grant to EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that was collaborating with the institute to study bat coronaviruses in China.
Officials at the National Institutes of Health have repeatedly asserted — often in heated exchanges with congressional Republicans — that U.S. taxpayer dollars were not used in any laboratory research that could have produced the pandemic. But they have also acknowledged that they do not know what other research the Wuhan Institute was conducting.
In January, an internal watchdog agency found that N.I.H. had made significant errors in its oversight of the grants. The findings were outlined in a 64-page report describing missed deadlines, confusing protocols and misspent funds. The report reinforced concerns about the federal government’s system for monitoring research with potentially risky pathogens.
EcoHealth’s grant was reinstated in May, but it does not provide funding for any research in China or with animals.