AIDS research effort needs overhaul, panel says Scientists, experts call grants-award process slow

March 14, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The government's $1.4 billion AIDS research program lacks focus, is uncoordinated and needs a major overhaul to attract new scientific talent and spur novel and imaginative ideas, a government-appointed panel said in a report issued yesterday. But the panel of 114 leading scientists and representatives of academia, drug companies, community organizations and AIDS advocates rejected the idea of an institute devoted specifically to AIDS.

Although 15 years of AIDS research have brought impressive gains, the program needs more continuing scientific oversight and review by nongovernment scientists, the panel said.

It also said there were too many delays in the process that awards grants to scientists in the government and at hundreds of research centers across the country, thus inevitably slowing the progress that can be made against AIDS.

In "numerous instances" the government's process "unfortunately appears to have failed in the identification of the most promising research projects," said the panel, which was headed by Dr. Arnold J. Levine of Princeton University.

The panel urged development of a better information system to track the entire portfolio of money that the National Institutes of Health, the government's chief research center, spends on AIDS research at its headquarters in Bethesda and elsewhere.

The United States pays for 85 percent of all public sector AIDS research in the world, and the driving force is the NIH.

The panel called for focusing efforts in five major areas: drug development, vaccine development, clinical trials, immunology and basic research.

The report also urged strengthening the agency's Office of AIDS Research, which commissioned the study.

The report had been scheduled to be released at a news conference in Washington today, but the Associated Press reported on the findings yesterday. Dr. William Paul, the director of the federal Office of AIDS Research, said he was pleased with the report and that an advisory council had approved it.

"The report has the potential, if implemented appropriately, to make a real difference in AIDS research," Dr. Paul said in an interview.

He said he would work with the 24 directors of the institutes that compose NIH to put the thrust of the panel's recommendations into place as quickly as possible because "we're facing a medical emergency" in AIDS.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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