A new report on Sunday revealed that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave at least $17 million to multiple controversial companies in Colombia that tested an alleged vaccine for malaria on animals that were kept in poor conditions.
As reported by the New York Post, the companies in question first faced an investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), after a whistleblower released pictures of the owl monkeys kept in captivity as part of experiments funded by the NIH, which the controversial group claims were based on “shoddy science and manipulation of data.”
“It appears to be a huge scam, if I’m honest,” said PETA spokeswoman Magnolia Martinez. “American taxpayers are being scammed into paying for a malaria vaccine that doesn’t exist – and it will never be produced by using monkeys.”
In response to the allegations, the owner of the coalition of companies, Socrates Herrera, issued his own statement declaring that PETA’s statements are “based on false accusations and documents put out of context.” Herrera co-owns the companies in question alongside his wife, Myriam Arevalo-Herrera.
“Monkey studies have contributed to … successfully moving from the selection of malaria parasite antigens [in the discovery phase], to animal studies [in the preclinical phase], to human vaccine trials [in the clinical phase] with the support and supervision of institutions as prestigious as the World Health Organization,” Herrera continued.
In response, Martinez claimed that PETA’s interviews with at least 11 former and current employees produced a consensus that disagrees with Herrera’s assessment.
“They have published clinical trials where they supposedly have proof,” said Martinez. “However, based on the testimonies from insiders, we are not sure that they are actually doing what they’re saying they’re doing. It appears to be a huge scam, if I’m honest.”
Shifting the focus of blame to the NIH, Martinez demanded that the institute begin enforcing the same standards on foreign facilities as it would on American facilities, should any such foreign entities receive NIH funds.
“They are being funded by American money, but they don’t have to meet any of the American laws and no one cares,” Martinez explained. “For fiscal year 2022, around 700 [NIH] grants were awarded to foreign institutions. Just imagine – we’re talking about more than $200 million with no oversight at all. That’s absurd.”
The NIH has come under fire in recent years for its support for gain-of-function research in laboratories across the world. The most infamous example is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which received financial support from the NIH and other American entities in the years leading up to COVID-19 outbreak in late 2019 and early 2020. As mounting evidence points to the disease’s origins as coming from the lab, the NIH has faced increasing blame for partially contributing to the creation of the virus, and the subsequent global pandemic that lasted for over two years.