U.S. rebuffs French attempt to keep all royalties from blood test for AIDS

September 20, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Representatives of the French governmen have asked that royalties for an AIDS blood test be turned over to them because, they say, French researchers were the ones who discovered the virus that was used to create the test. But Americans have blocked such a move.

The action came Wednesday at a board meeting of the French and American AIDS Foundation in Bethesda. The board makes policy on matters related to the 1987 agreement between the United States and France to divide the royalties evenly and take equal credit for the discovery of the blood tests.

The board voted 4-4, with the four U.S. representatives voting against the proposal and the French voting for it. Because of the tie, no action will be taken to change the division of royalties.

But William Grigg, a spokesman for the United States, said: "The vote is a signal that the U.S. is rejecting the French claims. It is an official statement that we believe the French don't have a case."

The French maintain that scientists at its Pasteur Institute were the first to discover HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, that Dr. Luc Montagnier at Pasteur sent samples of the French virus to the American researcher, Dr. Robert Gallo, and that Dr. Gallo used it to make a blood test.

After asserting for years that his work involved viruses that he had isolated, Dr. Gallo acknowledged last year that the virus he had used to make the blood test did come from the French. But he said that was only because his own stocks of the virus had been accidentally contaminated with the French strain. Whatever virus he used, he said, the work was his own.

Pasteur Institute officials made a motion at the Wednesday meeting that would recognize, without stating how, that the American blood test actually derived from work with a French strain of the virus. The motion would have turned over to the institute all the royalties that do not automatically go to AIDS research.

Dr. Maxime Schwartz, director of the Pasteur Institute, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the motion was an attempt to avoid taking the matter to court. The 1987 agreement splitting royalties was "made on the basis of a 5-year-old premise that we now know is wrong," he said.

In 1987 Dr. Gallo said he had not used the French virus at all, but in May 1991 he acknowledged that he had inadvertently used the French strain.

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