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Wuhan scientists wanted to release coronaviruses into bats

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Chinese scientists wanted to genetically engineer coronaviruses that were more infectious to humans and then conduct experiments on live bats about 18 months before the first COVID-19 cases emerged — but a US Department of Defence agency rejected the funding proposal, leaked documents reveal.

Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were planning to genetically enhance airborne coronaviruses and release aerosols containing “novel chimeric spike proteins” among cave bats in Yunnan, China, according to the 2018 proposal submitted to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  

They also planned to alter coronaviruses to infect humans more easily by introducing “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses.

The purpose of the research was to assess the risk of coronaviruses, work on ways to prevent outbreaks and even vaccinate bats against the virus, according to the proposal.

The proposal was spearheaded by New York City-based EcoHealth Alliance — the nonprofit headed by British scientist Peter Daszak that has previously funneled federal funds to the Wuhan lab for bat coronavirus research.

But the $14 million grant ended up being rejected by DARPA over fears it could result in gain-of-function research, which could make a virus more transmissible and pathogenic.

“It is clear that the proposed project led by Peter Daszak could have put local communities at risk,” DARPA said in rejecting the proposal.

A team of researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the EcoHealth Alliance have trapped bats in caves all over China, like this one in Guangdong, to sample them for coronaviruses.
Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology planned to alter coronaviruses to infect humans more easily by introducing “human-specific cleavage sites” to bat coronaviruses.
ECOHEALTH ALLIANCE

Details of the leaked proposal were released Tuesday by Drastic Research – a group of international scientists investigating the origins of the pandemic.

Drastic said it was provided the papers by a whistleblower, and a former member of the Trump administration confirmed the proposal’s authenticity to The Telegraph.

The group questioned whether the research — particularly altering the virus to make it more infectious to humans — still went ahead given the theory that COVID-19 spread from the Wuhan lab.

“Given that we find in this proposal a discussion of the planned introduction of human-specific cleavage sites, a review by the wider scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted,” Drastic said.

It comes one week after a group of GOP lawmakers called for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to subpoena Dr Anthony Fauci on the origins of COVID-19.

In a letter sent to Pelosi on Sept. 14, they said they have unsuccessfully attempted to seek information from multiple officials about the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) funding they believe may have been used for gain-of-function research.

The group argued the information was critical for providing oversight and gaining information to prevent future pandemics, noting that the Intelligence Community’s report on the deadly virus’ origin was inconclusive.

Fauci was earlier accused by critics of lying after separate documents appeared to contradict his claims that the National Institute of Health did not fund gain-of-function research at the same Wuhan lab.

The documents, obtained by The Intercept, detailed others grants given to EcoHealth Alliance.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
Drastic Research said looking into the plausibility of the lab-leak theory is “warranted.”
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Fauci has repeatedly insisted that NIH funding of the Wuhan lab does not constitute as gain-of-function research.

The grant proposal included in the documents was for a project titled “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” which involved screening thousands of bat samples, as well as people who worked with live animals, for novel coronaviruses, the outlet said.

The $3.1 million grant was awarded for a five-year period between 2014 and 2019. After the funding was renewed in 2019, it was suspended by the Trump administration in April 2020.

The grant directed $599,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for bat coronavirus research.

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Crypto firms pay massive price tags to name arenas as sports teams weigh risks

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Cryptocurrency companies are being forced to shell out massive premiums in sports sponsorship deals as professional teams weigh the risks of getting burned — like some of them did during the dot-com bubble. 

Crypto.com, a Singapore-based crypto trading site, reportedly paid $700 million for the naming rights to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for 20 years — more than five times what Staples had paid for the same rights in 1999.

And in March, Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX ponied up $135 million to rename the home of the Miami Heat. That’s more than triple what American Airlines paid for naming rights in 1999.

Arena owners are able to demand more money from venture capital-flushed crypto firms because they’re relatively unknown names in an unproven industry, experts say. 

“If you want to do a deal with Mercedes Benz, that’s safe,” Columbia University sports management professor Joe Favorito told The Post. “If you go after a nontraditional naming rights deal, you probably ask them for a lot more money.” 

That’s because arena owners remember stadiums named after long-gone tech firms such as Baltimore’s PSINet Stadium and Boston’s CMGI field — both of which had to be re-christened after their namesakes imploded when the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. 

Exterior of the Baltimore Ravens stadium
The home of the Baltimore Ravens had to be renamed after tech firm PSINet imploded in 2002.
Getty Images

“During the bubble, there were companies that bought in on buildings and went bankrupt and that was an extremely disappointing and troubling thing,” said Favorito, who added that scrubbing a defunct company’s name from a stadium can also damage a franchise’s brand and can reduce its appeal to future sponsors.

As a result, crypto firms with unproven track records have to make their offers so big that team owners “can’t take anything else,” according to Chris Lencheski, an ex-Comcast executive who has worked on arena naming deals. He compares the dynamic to the “tobacco premium” that cigarette makers had to pay for sports deals in the 20th century.

Beyond arena naming rights, crypto companies are also spending big on other sports deals. 

Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen on the red carpet
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen starred in a $20 million ad campaign for FTX in October.
Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen starred in a $20 million ad campaign for FTX in October, while American crypto exchange Coinbase paid an undisclosed amount to become the NBA’s first-ever “crypto sponsor” the same month.

Crypto.com also paid $175 million in July to plaster its name on Ultimate Fighting Championship posters and merch for 10 years. StormX, a startup that pays out crypto cash-back awards on online purchases, signed a multiyear deal to adorn Portland Trail Blazers jerseys with a logo patch in July.

“These companies are in a mad dash to get their name out there and put their stake in the ground,” said Woody Thompson, executive vice president at sports and entertainment marketing firm Octagon. 

The premium prices venture capital-flush crypto companies are willing to pay for ad space are likely to raise advertising costs across the board, forcing traditional advertisers like car, retail and beverage companies to shell out more money, Thompson said.

“This is what happened with the dot-com boom” he noted.

As lawmakers and regulators debate how to oversee the booming crypto industry, teams and arenas in the Washington, DC, area are seeing especially high interest from crypto companies and other new financial technology firms, according to Favorito. 

“In Washington, the people who are going to games are lobbyists and senators and you want to be front and center with them in their space,” he said. “Nobody’s really talked about the casual lobbying that goes on at a hockey game or a football game.” 

Exterior of the FTX Arena in Miami
In March, Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX shelled out $135 million to rename the home of the Miami Heat.
Shutterstock / Johnny Michael

Crypto.com, FTX and StormX didn’t respond to requests for comment. Nor did the Portland Trail Blazers, the UFC, the FTX Arena or AEG Worldwide, which owns the Staples Center.

Coinbase spokesman Andrew Schmitt declined to provide details of the company’s NBA deal.

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Vita Vea gets tooth knocked out, seems just fine with that

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Vita Vea was all smiles despite getting one of his front teeth knocked out Sunday.

The Buccaneers’ defensive tackle was shown grinning and pointing to his bloody new gap on the sidelines after he lost a tooth while being blocked by Colts guard Mark Glowinski in the first half.

Vea’s helmet appeared to be coming off before contact — with his facemask rising above his mouth — enabling a direct hit by Glowinski’s helmet into Vea’s face to dislodge one of his teeth.

Vita Vea tooth
Vita Vea had his tooth knocked out by the helmet of Mark Glowinski.
Fox
Vita Vea tooth
Vita Vea didn’t seem too bothered by having a tooth knocked out.
Fox

The replay of the play led to this exchange between Fox play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt and analyst Greg Olsen:

“Oh, he lost a tooth,” Burkhardt said.

“And he’s smiling. That’s the best part. Oh my gosh,” Olsen added.

“Does the tooth fairy come for 26 year olds? I’m just asking. That is unbelievable,” Burkhardt said.

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Manhattan skyscraper snags its own builder as a tenant

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The Spiral is adding a large new tenant who won’t have to ask where the elevators and the bathrooms are when it moves in.

That’s because Turner Construction Company, which just signed a 13-year, 75,000-square-foot lease, is actually building the new Tishman Speyer tower on the far West Side. Turner is the general contractor on the BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group-designed skyscraper with a top-to-bottom landscaped spiral of exterior terraces.

Turner is moving its worldwide headquarters to the third floor of the tower, aka  66 Hudson Boulevard between West 34th and 35th streets. It will relocate from 375 Hudson St. in January 2023.

The deal brings The Spiral’s 2.8 million square feet to 54 percent leased with a year left before it’s completed.

Turner handles $12 billion of construction each year worldwide. Tishman Speyer President and CEO Rob Speyer called the firm  “an incredible partner as we built The Spiral, introducing technology, safety and workforce innovations that make it a new standard for modern office development.”

Turner CEO Peter Davoren said the building “will provide us with an environment that so well defines our vision and the future of the company.”

Construction workers at The Spiral's site.
Tishman Speyer CEO Rob Speyer (second from right), along with others involved in creating The Spiral, signs the steel beam for the topping out of the building.
AP

The Spiral will also be home to COVID-beating vaccine maker Pfizer, the anchor tenant with 746,000 square feet.

Large leases were also signed by law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and AllianceBernstein.

Terms of the Turner deal were not released. Asking rents in the tower have been reported as ranging from $110 per square foot at the base to $225-plus per square foot at the top.

A rendering of The Spiral with the Chrysler Building in the background
AllianceBernstein has also leased space in The Spiral, aka 66 Hudson Boulevard.
The Spiral NY

A CBRE team of Mary Ann Tighe, Rob Hill, Brendan Herlihy and Elliot Bok advised Turner on the deal. Tishman Speyer was repped by an in-house leasing team.


When news broke last week that Chubb signed on as the first tenant at 550 Madison Ave. — a deal that we first forecast three months earlier — observers, Realty Check included, were curious what the lease terms were.

The first tenant at a new development or redevelopment typically gets a more favorable deal than those that follow.

We’ve now learned that Chubb will enjoy 24 months of free rent.

Once the two years are up, the rent will increase in stages from $110 to $140 per square foot on floors 10 to 17 and from $160 to $190 per square foot on floors 36 to 38.


For a street where nobody wants to shop anymore — as lots of off-base media reports claim —  it’s remarkable how the prime stretch of Madison Avenue north of 59th Street continues to draw luxury retailers even as some others move away.

Heidi Klum wearing a camouflage Birkin bag from Hermes
Hermès, maker of bags favored by style-setters like supermodel Heidi Klum, is opening a flagship store at 702 Madison Ave.
GC Images

The newest arrival will be Italian menswear maker Kiton at currently vacant 692 Madison Ave. between East 62nd and 63rd streets. Kiton just signed a lease for a three-level, 3,400-square-foot boutique next door to scarf and bag emporium Hermès — which will soon move into a much larger space at 702 Madison.

“This deal is a true testament to luxury retail in the city,” said broker Marc Sitt of Kassin Sabbagh Realty, who with Dorel Melloul represented the landlord at 692 Madison, the Ezair family.

“With Hermès opening their new flagship, this corridor will be more vibrant than it was in previous years.  We’re happy we structured a lease which made sense for everyone,” Sitt added.

Hermès will soon house its men’s and women’s collections in one building at 702 Madison.  

A building with the Cushman & Wakefield logo on the front
Cushman & Wakefield handled Kiton’s side of the leasing transaction at 692 Madison Ave.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Kiton is expected to move in next summer. The store will also remain at 4 E. 54th St., a building owned by Kiton.

The Madison Avenue asking rent was $1.2 million per year.

Kiton was repped by Cushman & Wakefield’s Alan Wildes and Ian Lerner. Sitt also credited Kiton lawyer Massimo D’angelo for playing an important role in the deal.

Other recent nearby retail transactions include Celine at 650 Madison Ave. and Balenciaga at 620 Madison.


Prolific architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox has renewed its lease and expanded at Tishman Speyer’s 11 W. 42nd St. KPF added 38,000 square feet on the entire seventh floor,  bringing its total in the 1928-vintage building — known for its fine views and abundance of natural light — to more than 100,000 square feet.

The rent started in the low $60s per square foot, sources said. As part of the deal, KPF will enjoy one year of free rent on the expansion floor.

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