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Letters Urge Review of Decision to End Coronavirus Grant

More than 70 Nobel laureates have called on Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health, and Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, to review a recent decision to stop funding a coronavirus grant, ScienceInsider reports. It notes that 31 scientific societies have likewise sent a letter to Collins urging him to reconsider that decision.

Last month, NIH informed EcoHealth Alliance it was ending its grant for a project the alliance sponsored that was studying how coronaviruses may spread from bats to people. As Politico reported at the time, Michael Lauer, the deputy director for extramural research at NIH, said the agency did "not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities." However, the grant had come to the attention of President Donald Trump, as EcoHealth Alliance researchers have worked closely with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. At a press conference, President Trump had said the grant would be shut down.

"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," the Nobel laureates write in their letter, which was posted to Twitter by Steven Salzberg. "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."

They and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-led group of scientific societies urge NIH to be transparent and to review the decision.