Schakowsky, Huffman, DeGette Call on Administration to Remove Barriers to COVID-19 Research

April 6, 2020
Press Release

EVANSTON, IL - Today, Congresswoman Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02), and Congresswoman Diana DeGette (CO-01) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging the agency to prioritize science and public health by waiving the restrictions on research with human fetal tissue, which are preventing federally-funded scientists from advancing important studies to potentially prevent, treat, or cure the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

As part of their letter, the Members wrote, “You have repeatedly stated that your agency is doing everything you can to develop vaccines and treatments for the novel coronavirus. However, in June 2019 your agency banned all intramural research using human fetal tissue and placed new restrictions on extramural research, including review by an ethics panel that still has yet to be set up. As a result, scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and across the country have been stopped from pursuing promising biomedical research into conditions and diseases that affect millions because it involves the use of human fetal tissue—including coronavirus research.”

In addition to Schakowsky, Huffman, and DeGette, the letter was signed by Ted Deutch (FL-22), Lois Frankel (FL-21), Jesús G. “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Pramilla Jayapal (WA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), and Jackie Speier (CA-14).

Last week, Congresswoman Schakowsky also introduced the Protecting Cures Act of 2020 (H.R. 6417), which would remove the Trump Administration’s life-threatening restrictions and enact guardrails to protect biomedical research involving fetal tissue moving forward.

The full letter can be found here or below.  

Dear Secretary Azar,

We write to ask that you immediately waive the restrictions on research with human fetal tissue, which are preventing federally-funded scientists from advancing important studies that could potentially prevent, treat, or cure the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

You have repeatedly stated that your agency is doing everything you can to develop vaccines and treatments for the novel coronavirus. However, in June 2019 your agency banned all intramural research using human fetal tissue and placed new restrictions on extramural research, including review by an ethics panel that still has yet to be set up. As a result, scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and across the country have been stopped from pursuing promising biomedical research into conditions and diseases that affect millions because it involves the use of human fetal tissue—including coronavirus research.

Because of your restrictions, NIH is unable to utilize human fetal tissue to develop animal models of COVID-19 that can test potential vaccines and treatments to decelerate or even end this global health crisis. This inaction may ultimately put Americans further at risk of disease or death from COVID-19. Instead of exploring every possible option for a COVID-19 therapeutic, U.S. scientists are now urging their international counterparts to rush to conduct this research while their hands remain tied.[1]

We urge you to prioritize science during an unprecedented global health emergency and remove all barriers to lifesaving research. The United States is a leader in biomedical research, and our nation should be leading the world to advance research that can alleviate this pandemic.