US Getting Back Into Virus-Hunting Business

Stop Spillover to take over for Predict program, which was allowed to die right before the pandemic
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2020 7:21 AM CDT
US Getting Back Into Virus-Hunting Business
In this May 21, 2020, file photo, a lab technician performs COVID-19 testing at a clinic near Johannesburg, South Africa.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

For a decade, a US program spent hundreds of millions of dollars to train scientists in dozens of countries around the world to search for threatening new animal viruses. The initiative sussed out more than 1,000 new viruses over its life span, but the Trump administration let the program, known as Predict, quietly die off last year, right before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Now, per the New York Times, it looks like the infectious disease program will get somewhat of a second life. The program, which began in 2009 under the Obama administration in response to the H5N1 bird flu, was managed by the US Agency for International Development and involved researchers looking in places like wet markets, bat caves, and camel pens for deadly pathogens. One grant Predict awarded went to train Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology to examine bats for viruses.

That lab was the same one rumored, without evidence, to have accidentally let the coronavirus leak to the rest of the world. USAID let Predict die last October after its funding ran out, alarming researchers worldwide. Now, USAID is touting Stop Spillover, a new $100 million initiative it says will build upon the data that emerged out of Predict to further stop the spread of deadly viruses. Predict founder Dennis Carroll, however, tells the Times that Predict's demise was the work of "risk-averse bureaucrats" and that he designed Stop Spillover years ago just as a "companion piece" to Predict. He says by touting the new program as a revival of the old one, USAID is simply "trying to create an optic that gets them out of the blowback for ending Predict." Meanwhile, Joe Biden tells the Times that if he's elected, he'll restore Predict, as well as other programs designed to search for viruses that vanished during the Trump administration. Much more here. (More viruses stories.)

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