EcoHealth Alliance wanted to block disclosure of Covid-19-relevant virus data from China

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EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak opposed the public release of Covid-19-related virus sequence data gathered from China as part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) PREDICT program, according to emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

The conversation in late April 2020 involved employees of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate coronaviruses, including with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology; and Metabiota, a San Francisco-based biotechnology company backed by Google that works with PREDICT, a “virus hunting” program that tracks unknown viruses.

Tammie O’Rourke of Metabiota emailed Hongying Li, who coordinates EcoHealth programs in China and Southeast Asia, an attachment with virus sequences detected in China that had been submitted to the public genetic sequence database GenBank. They then discussed whether the genetic sequences should be uploaded into the public database.

Hongying Li wanted to hold off on uploading the virus sequence data for several reasons, including that, “due to the COVID-19, any relevant data publication needs to be reviewed and approved by the institution in China…”

Daszak then wrote, “It’s extremely important we don’t have these sequences as part of our PREDICT release to Genbank at this point. As you may have heard, these were part of a grant just terminated by NIH.” He referred to an article in Politico, “Trump cuts U.S. research on bat-human virus transmission over China ties,” and urged holding off on public sharing of Chinese viral genomic data, even though the generation of the data was funded by U.S. taxpayers.  Having them as part of PREDICT will being [sic] very unwelcome attention to UC Davis, PREDICT and USAID,” Daszak wrote.

The emails were released as part of a California Public Records Act request to UC Davis. They do not contain attachments and so the actual viral sequence data are not included in the information received by U.S. Right to Know. It  is not known whether the data referred to in the emails are still embargoed or were subsequently shared on GenBank.

EcoHealth Alliance denied that any sequences were kept out of GenBank. In response to a query, Daszak emailed an August 2020 Nature Communications article co-authored by EcoHealth and Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists, and wrote: “All sequences of SARS-related coronaviruses discovered by EcoHealth Alliance in China were sequenced using NIH funding and have been made public in peer-reviewed scientific papers and via the publicly available Genbank database. The Genbank accession numbers for over 600 sequences can be found in the attached paper. Two further sequences were identified and submitted separately to NIH on 11/18/21  (Genbank Accession # OK663614 & OK663615).”

For more information

All four batches of documents USRTK obtained by public records requests to UC Davis – including the most recent one, which as reported on in this article – are available here.