Key House Democrat demands NIH answer for pace of long Covid research

Key House Democrat demands NIH answer for pace of long Covid research

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Edited by Erin Mershon

WASHINGTON — A powerful Democratic lawmaker is interrogating the National Institutes of Health over its slow progress in addressing long Covid, citing a recent STAT News and MuckRock investigation into the agency’s lack of urgency and spending.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee’s top Democrat, sent a letter to NIH acting Director Lawrence Tabak on Tuesday highlighting the agency’s delays in enrolling clinical trials, the lack of relief for patients, and the exclusion of long Covid from the White House’s Next Gen program to accelerate development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. The Energy and Commerce Committee is responsible for overseeing the NIH.

“Congress entrusted NIH with significant funding to provide relief to our constituents suffering from this life-altering disease, but so far, it hasn’t delivered that relief,” Eshoo wrote.

STAT and MuckRock’s investigation found the NIH’s $1.2 billion effort to study long Covid has yielded little useful information for patients, faced delays in starting clinical trials for treatments, generated controversy over the selection of exercise therapy as an area of focus, and is nearly out of money.

Eshoo is also requesting information about the NIH’s remaining budget on long Covid, plans for future spending, specific dates when the RECOVER initiative will start enrolling patients in clinical trials, and how treatments were selected to be tested in clinical trials.

She’s also asking for a firm timeline on when HHS’ Office of Long Covid Research and Practice will be established, as well as whether the NIH needs more resources to study the condition.

HHS had announced plans to create a new office to coordinate the government-wide research efforts into long Covid in August, but the agency hasn’t acted to actually stand it up. An NIH official also told members of Congress last June that “additional resources are necessary” to test the full range of treatments needed, but the Biden administration didn’t request any new funding for the project in its most recent budget.

NIH said that the agency will respond to Eshoo directly.

The agency is in the middle of a leadership transition, as the White House is planning to nominate National Cancer Institute Director Monica Bertagnolli as a permanent director of the agency. If confirmed, she will have responsibility for oversight of the agency’s long Covid efforts.

Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald, courtesy of Shutterstock. Caption: California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo speaking at a press conference in the aftermath of mass shootings.