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Experts say NIH squandered $1B in long COVID-19 funds over 2.5 years

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Friday, August 11, 2023 - 3:05pm
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Experts and patient advocates this week blasted the NIH for squandering research dollars provided by Congress to study long COVID-19.

The criticism stems from a previously unreleased budget requested by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo of California and shared with several news websites, including MuckRock and STAT.

Critics say the $1.15 billion December 2020 allocation, now mostly earmarked or spent, was wasted on pointless observational studies instead of clinical trials.

They question the lack of drug candidate testing, and say the few under study are already used by desperate patients, and only treat symptoms, not underlying causes.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases editor in chief Ursula Hofer contributed to a recent editorial saying, of the 386 long-COVID-19-related clinical trials listed on ClinicalTrials.gov, only 12 now recruit participants and test drug interventions.

Some NIH priority candidates, like Paxlovid, performed poorly in previous studies.

At least one critic says the agency’s goals are misaligned because its leaders failed to learn from previous studies of diseases symptomatically similar to long COVID, such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

Some research designs came under fire, too, as potential triggers for long COVID-19 symptoms like delayed fatigue following exertion, aka post-exertional malaise, in which a patient’s energy crashed a day or two after physical or mental activities.

In a statement, the agency said its plans followed an extensive review process with input from scientists and patients.

NIH added that more research will require additional funding.

That could be a tall order when the agency faces potential budget cuts.

Coronavirus Science