Andrew Hebbeler, an Obama-era official tasked with overseeing the administration’s review of funding “gain of function” research – a form of pathogen manipulation which many believe led to COVID-19 – was re-appointed under President Joe Biden, serving in the same agency: the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Hebbeler’s appointment comes amidst controversy over the risky form of research – which often entails increasing the lethality, virulence, and transmissibility of a pathogen – and its relevance to the origins of COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) admitted, despite repeated denials from Anthony Fauci, that the taxpayer-funded non-profit EcoHealth Alliance conducted gain of function research on “killer” bat coronaviruses in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Many experts point to the Chinese Communist Party-run lab as the source of COVID-19.
During the Obama years, Hebbeler oversaw the review of gain of function research policy, following the administration’s decision to halt federal funds from going to the risky research method in 2014. At the time, he served as the Assistant Director for Biological and Chemical Threats in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
He was the only White House official present at a National Academy of Sciences 2014 symposium – the “Potential Risks and Benefits of Gain-of-Function Research” – that served as the primary forum to discuss the scientific community’s approach to gain of function research.
Speaking for nearly 15 minutes at a session titled “Current U.S. Government Policy on GoF Research Proposals and Charge to the Academies,” Hebbeler communicated the federal government’s approach to deciding how to regulate the risky research.
“We come together to discuss a very important issue: gain of function research and how we can work together in partnership with the life sciences community to establish a framework that will guide future federal investments in this area of research,” he began. Hebbeler explains his role within the OSTP as “focusing on biological threats.”
“It really is the spectrum of risk from natural outbreaks of infectious disease on one side of the spectrum through laboratory accidents to deliberate acts of bioterrorism,” he clarified in reference to the issues falling under his purview.
“In the U.S. government’s own deliberations that preceded the announcement, the highest concern in the gain of function area was really for respiratory pathogens that possessed pandemic potential. These included MERS, SARS, as well as influenza,” Hebbeler added.
Hebbeler’s influential role in the gain of function research policy is also evident through his leading the Obama administration’s media communications on the issue.
“The U. S. government’s approach to gain-of-function studies is definitely an area that we are actively discussing,” Hebbeler was quoted in an NPR article before adding: “One of the agenda items will include thinking through risks and benefits associated with gain-of-function studies.”
“What we tried to build was sort of a grassroots approach where those most connected to the research were the ones flagging it,” Hebbeler told Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy News.
In January 2015, Hebbeler departed his role at OSTP to join the State Department before departing in May 2020 to join the Biden-Harris transition team in November 2020. Since May 2021, he has served as the Assistant Director for Health and Life Science in the OSTP – the same agency he previously led the gain of function research review policy for.