House GOP says health officials misled MPox research investigation

Federal health officials misled a House panel investigation into potentially risky research into the MPOX virus, the Republican staff of the Energy and Commerce Committee said in an interim report Tuesday.

Over an 18-month period, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) “repeatedly obstructed and misled the committee” about the research that was carried out. according to the report done by an agency scientist to alter a strain of mpox virus.

The committee sought information from NIH and HHS to better understand the potential risks and benefits of the experiment, which was first described in an interview in the journal Science, but the report says the agency largely blocked those requests.

“The Committee has lost confidence in the ability of the NIH and NIAID to oversee their own research into potential pandemic pathogens or amplified potential pandemic pathogens and to fairly determine whether an experiment poses an unacceptable risk to biosafety or public health entails,” committee staff wrote.

Only after the committee threatened a subpoena did HHS officials admit that the agency had approved the investigation.

HHS claims that although it granted approval, the riskier research was never conducted.

“The experiment to which the committee refers was never carried out, the committee knows that. HHS remains committed to ensuring the safety of biomedical research,” an HHS spokesperson said.

“The committee is looking for a problem that doesn't exist. HHS and its departments, including NIH, follow strict biosecurity measures as our scientists work to better understand and protect the public from infectious diseases – like MPOX,” the spokesperson added.

But the report noted that “no documentation or other evidence has been presented to support the claim.”

The committee said the NIH approved the study in 2015 and only withdrew authorization when the committee began asking questions.

“This deliberate, prolonged attempt to mislead the committee is unacceptable and potentially criminal,” the report said. “The committee needs additional evidence from HHS, the NIH, or NIAID to be confident that the experiment did not occur.”

NIH scientist Bernard Moss said in a 2022 Science article that he planned to understand the severity of the mpox virus by inserting genes from a more lethal version of the virus into a less lethal strain.

The committee claims the experiments were “gain of function” research, which has become a flashpoint among Republicans amid investigations into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and the possibility that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory.

A second GOP aide said the Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing on COVID-19 and laboratory safety in “the coming weeks”

The interim report is part of an investigation into NIH research practices that the committee first launched in 2022, with a particular focus on the mpox and Moss experiments.

“The plan is to continue the investigation because there is so much information and documents that we are still waiting on … to get an account of what actually happened here,” a Republican committee official said.

“We're pushing as hard as we can and they're barely giving us anything,” the staffer said. “And that is a shattering of the norms that Congress and the NIH were previously committed to.”

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