Scientists battle state funding for Gallo Misconduct charges reiterated

researcher calls critics 'fanatics'

November 04, 1995|By Jonathan Bor and Douglas Birch | Jonathan Bor and Douglas Birch,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Frank Langfitt, John W. Frece and Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

Four government scientists have waged a bitter and highly unusual campaign to deny Dr. Robert C. Gallo state money for a planned virology institute in Baltimore, reviving charges that the researcher hogged credit for key AIDS discoveries.

The scientists, including one who led a 1990 investigation of Dr. Gallo, have bombarded legislative leaders with documents, computer disks and tapes of a British television report.

They say the evidence shows serious ethical lapses by Dr. Gallo.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, University of Maryland officials and the state's economic development chief eagerly sought Dr. Gallo, hoping that he will catapult Baltimore into the vanguard of biotechnology research.

The Glendening administration has promised the institute $9 million in taxpayer money.

But one critic, who lives in Maryland, called the use of public money "offensive."

"If the governor is determined to do this and the legislature buys into it, that's their decision," said Dr. Suzanne W. Hadley, the former investigator for the National Institutes of Health.

"But they will have made it in the face of a quite sub stantial body of evidence that suggests it is not a good move and is an abrogation of trust."

The scientists point to long-standing allegations that Dr. Gallo failed to give French scientists credit for their role in the discovery of the AIDS virus.

Dr. Gallo, reached this week in Tokyo prior to a meeting with a Japanese pharmaceutical firm, said he is weary of answering these accusations. He called them "passe" and "horse manure."

The 58-year-old scientist, who can be alternately charming and combative, suggested the NIH scientists are engaged in a witch hunt. "These are fanatics; they are not worth the time of day," he said.

Two years ago, government investigators dropped charges of scientific misconduct against Dr. Gallo. The chief investigator complained that an appeals board had imposed new ethical standards that made the charges impossible to prove.

Earlier, the federal Office of Research Integrity found Dr. Gallo and an associate guilty of misconduct.

Last May, Dr. Gallo announced plans to head a Center for Human Virology in Baltimore -- part of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

His decision represented a coup for Mr. Glendening, who had waged a high-profile campaign to lure Dr. Gallo. Three other states had courted him.

As an enticement, the governor promised $9 million from an economic development fund and the city pledged $3 million.

Officials said the money would help pay for equipment and salaries. The state funding must be approved by state legislators.

Denial could jeopardize the scheduled January opening of Dr. Gallo's center, in a complex near the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

House and Senate budget committees are expected to hold hearings on the request before the end of the year. So far, leaders of those committees seem unmoved by the campaign against Dr. Gallo.

"I've heard both sides of the story," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

"I assume Dr. Gallo and his associates aren't all crazy, and they're all saying the same things about these instigators. What he wants to do here in human virology is much bigger than just AIDS."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the issues raised by critics are irrelevant.

Legislators, he said, only want to know whether Dr. Gallo is a "world-class scientist" who will "make this project essentially a jewel for the state of Maryland."

"The answer to those questions are, I think, 'yes,' " Delegate Rawlings said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he is keeping an open mind. "It ultimately raises questions as to the viability and the integrity of the proposal," said the Cumberland Democrat.

The lobbying campaign began in May, when Dr. Hadley wrote a letter urging the governor to review evidence gathered in several governmental investigations.

Dr. Hadley, the former head of an NIH office that enforced ethical standards, led the initial probe.

"Ask yourself," she wrote. "Is this a record with which you wish to be allied? Is this a record with which you wish to saddle the people of Maryland?" Dr. Hadley, who lives in Rockville, said she was "appalled that you would commit your personal support and those state funds to Gallo."

Somehow Dr. Gallo's lawyer, Joseph Onek, saw the letter. He wrote a terse reply, calling her words "untruthful and defamatory." He threatened legal action if she continued to oppose his client.

"Do not believe that your modest financial resources make you immune from suit," he wrote.

In an interview, Dr. Hadley said the threat only fortified her resolve to fight.

She has been joined by three scientists working in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at NIH: Dr. William Hagins, an eye specialist, Dr. Shuko Yoshikami and Dr. Philip Ross.

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