The Discovery of the AIDS virus The Truth about Gallo/Montagnier affair
Maxime Schwartz is the author of Comment les vaches sont devenues folles and Des microbes et des hommes, qui va l’emporter? A molecular biologist, he was formerly director general of the Institut Pasteur.
In Stockholm, on 10 December 2008, the King of Sweden awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, for their discovery of the AIDS virus. There is no doubt their discovery was a major breakthrough and that the Prize was well deserved. But why did it take so long for their discovery to be recognised?
Before 1981, AIDS was unknown. Since then it has led to 25 million deaths the world over, and continues to cause an additional three million deaths each year. The virus that causes AIDS was identified in 1983. Blood tests were then made available to keep the disease from spreading. Later, antiviral therapy was developed to prolong the lives of infected patients. Today scientists are working on developing a vaccine. If HIV had not been discovered so quickly, the pandemic would have been even worse.
Robert Gallo has often been credited as a co-discoverer of the AIDS virus. Yet he did not figure among the Nobel Prize laureates. Did the Nobel Committee make the right decision?
That is what this book sets out to show. By tracing the discovery of the virus and its aftermath, it helps us understand the conflict that opposed the United States and France.
• The appearance of AIDS, early AIDS research, competition between the Institut Pasteur and American research teams, the development of AIDS tests, the quarrel over patents, and ultimate recognition: the complete HIV dossier is presented here by a biologist with a thorough knowledge of what is at stake.
• Politics and economics are not strangers to science. The author looks beyond personal scientific rivalries and local events to examine the wider issues. What he discovers underneath the fierce Franco-American battle over the paternity of a virus offers a perfect illustration of the power struggle and economic interests that fuel scientific controversies.