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Pallone, Maloney and Murray Urge Secretary Azar to Lift Restrictions on the Use of Fetal Tissue in COVID-19 Research

Apr 17, 2020
Press Release
Top Democrats are concerned that ideologically motivated restrictions on federally funded research may block vaccine and treatment efforts for the 2019 novel coronavirus

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar urging the Administration to immediately reverse its fetal tissue restrictions for any current or future federally supported COVID-19-related research.

“While we remain opposed to any restrictions on fetal tissue research based in ideology, it is particularly important that therapeutic research related to COVID-19 proceed without any unnecessary barriers to scientific advancement,” the Democrats wrote.  “We fear that the Administration’s restrictions on the use of fetal tissue in federally funded research places ideology over science and may threaten American lives.  We urge you to immediately reverse fetal tissue research restrictions on any current or future federally supported COVID-19-related research.”

Scientific research involving fetal tissue has previously helped lead to major medical breakthroughs, including the development of vaccines for numerous diseases such as polio, rubella, and measles, and therapies for HIV and other infectious diseases. 

Despite the benefit of this research in advancing treatments, in June 2019, the Trump Administration imposed ideologically driven restrictions on the use of fetal tissue in all federally funded medical research.  

Last month, President Trump claimed during a White House press conference that his Administration would remove unnecessary administrative barriers to expedite “the rapid deployment of safe, effective treatments” for COVID-19.  However, COVID-19 treatment research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana has reportedly been on hold since February 19, 2020, when a senior government scientist asked NIH for permission to conduct COVID-19-related research involving fetal tissue.

In March, over 100 scientific and medical organizations currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic implored President Trump to lift his Administration’s restrictions on the use of fetal tissue in research, which they warned is undermining the ability of researchers to investigate potential treatments for COVID-19 and other diseases.

“In keeping with its mission, HHS should be doing everything within its power to enable scientists to develop advances in vaccines and therapeutics,” the Committee leaders continued.  “In light of the urgent need for coronavirus vaccines and treatments, we urge you to reverse research restrictions on any studies utilizing fetal tissue conducted by government scientists and those relying on or seeking federal funding for COVID-19-related scientific research.”

The members also requested a briefing by April 30, 2020, to answer a series of questions, including the status of the Administration’s decision on whether to allow the use of fetal tissue in research toward the development of vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19.

Read the letter to Secretary Azar HERE.