May 21, 2020
Dear Secretary Azar and Director Collins:
The 81 signatories of this letter, American Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, Chemistry, and Physics, are gravely concerned about the recent cancellation of a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to Dr. Peter Daszak at the EcoHealth Alliance in New York. We believe that this action sets a dangerous precedent by interfering in the conduct of science and jeopardizes public trust in the process of awarding federal funds for research.
For many years, Dr. Daszak and his colleagues have been conducting highly regarded, NIH-supported research on coronaviruses and other infectious agents, focusing on the transmission of these viruses from animal hosts to human beings. Their work depends on productive collaborations with scientists in other countries, including scientists in Wuhan, China, where the current pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus arose. Now is precisely the time when we need to support this kind of research if we aim to control the pandemic and prevent subsequent ones.
As has now been widely reported, the grant to the EcoHealth Alliance was abruptly terminated by NIH on April 24, 2020, just a few days after President Trump responded to a question from a reporter who erroneously claimed that the grant awarded millions of dollars to investigators in Wuhan. Despite the misrepresentation of Dr. Daszaks grant, despite the high relevance of the studies to the current pandemic, and despite the very high priority score that his application for renewal had received during peer review, the NIH informed Dr. Daszak and his colleagues that the grant was being terminated because NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities. Such explanations are preposterous under the circumstances.
We are scientists who have devoted our careers to research, both in medical and related scientific disciplines that bear on the overall health and well-being of society, as well as fundamental scientific research, much of it supported by NIH and other federal agencies. We take pride in our nations widely admired system for allocating funds based on expert review and public health needs. The abrupt revoking of the award to Dr. Daszak contravenes these basic tenets and deprives the nation and the world of highly regarded science that could help control one of the greatest health crises in modern history and those that may arise in the future.
We ask that you act urgently to conduct and release a thorough review of the actions that led to the decision to terminate the grant, and that, following this review, you take appropriate steps to rectify the injustices that may have been committed in revoking it.