Three gain-of-function researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill with an “unknown illness” in 2019 prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, including a researcher who received $41 million in U.S. government grants.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on U.S. intelligence reports about the sick researchers in 2021.
Researchers Ben Hu, Yu Ping, and Yan Zhu were hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms in November 2019, the Intercept reported. Hu was a top deputy to Shi Zhengli, a virologist known for “her work extracting samples of viruses from bats in Chinese caves.” FOIA requests filed by the White Coat Waste Project found that Hu, listed as an investigator, received United States grants totaling $41 million for his research. Hu’s research primarily focused on “modifying coronaviruses so they could bind to human cells,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Funding came from USAID and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, previously headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, in the form of three grants. Two of the grants ran from 2014 to 2019; former Donald Trump cut off funding for the third in 2020.
Robert Kadlec, a former senior Health and Human Services Department official, told the Wall Street Journal that the three scientists conducted research on SARS-related coronavirus at “inappropriately low biosafety settings that could have resulted in a laboratory infection.”
Yu published a thesis detailing a new family of SARS-like coronaviruses. It was discovered that the research was done in Biosafety level-2 facilities when the risky research should have been conducted in Biosafety level-3 or level-4 laboratories.
The lab leak theory has been a point of contention for officials and scientists since the first case of coronavirus was recorded on December 8, 2019. Gain-of-function research poses serious biosecurity risks, and the FBI concluded with moderate confidence that a lab leak was the cause of the virus.
“In the lead-up to the pandemic, the Wuhan institute frequently experimented on coronaviruses alongside the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, a research arm of the People’s Liberation Army,” the Times of London reported. “In published papers, military scientists are listed as working for the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, which is the military academy’s base.”