Gallo to the gallows? AIDS co-discoverer: Senate move to cut funds sends hostile sign to business community.

March 27, 1998

AFTER SPENDING $57 million in government funds to lure the world-renowned co-discoverer of the AIDS virus, Dr. Robert C. Gallo, to Maryland, some legislators in Annapolis want to shut off state aid and in the process send a dangerous message to the business community.

A Senate committee has voted to end financial support after this year for Dr. Gallo's trend-setting Institute for Human Virology in Baltimore. It is a short-sighted move that could destroy years of effort to make Baltimore a center for biotech research. Apparently, these senators believe in immediate results. But that's not how research works, especially groundbreaking work into the complexities of AIDS and cancer.

Dr. Gallo's institute, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland, got off to a slow start. That's not surprising because he had to build his institute from the ground up -- something he had never done before. He is seeking a few more top scientists to fill out his team and put it in position to win big grants and launch a private company to commercialize its discoveries.

Yet the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has voted to forbid state funding for the institute after this year. Such legislative hostility, unprecedented in its severity, sends the wrong message to the business community.

The institute's research and development could become a major business generator for this region in the next decade, thanks to the work of Dr. Gallo's scientists. In a brief period, they have filed for 19 patents and won research contracts worth $1.5 million.

An ongoing state commitment of $1.5 million -- and a larger grant for a few more years -- is a reasonable investment in this state's biotech future.

Fortunately, the House voted to support Dr. Gallo's institute. The Glendening administration must persuade senators to back away from their ill-conceived move. Dr. Gallo could be on the cusp of major advances. Pulling the plug on aid would be a terrible mistake.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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