The AIDS research community reacted negatively on Tuesday tonews of a move by MicroGeneSys Inc. and the Walter ReedArmy Institute to add a $20 million AIDS vaccine grantproposal to a Department of Defense appropriation bill.

Industry sources said the bill has already passed the House andSenate. If no written opposition is presented by the Secretaryof Defense, the director of the National Institutes of Health(NIH) or the FDA commissioner within six months ofenactment, the amendment will proceed.

Officials from privately held MicroGeneSys of Meriden, Conn.,were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

A Washington health insider was one of those angered by thepossibly preemptive move to seek federal funding for AIDSvaccine research. "Decisions on AIDS vaccines trials should bemade on scientific merits and not on who hires the bestlobbyist," he said. But he said it looks likely that the bill willpass, particularly because it was amended at the very end ofthe legislative process, giving opponents little time to react.

Larry Kurtz, spokesman for Biocine Co. of Emeryville, Calif.,said any decision regarding funding should be based on theopinion of a wide group of impartial experts, not the U.S.Senate. Biocine is a subsidiary of Chiron Corp., which isdeveloping a gp120 AIDS vaccine.

"The idea of giving $20 million of federal funding for AIDSvaccine research is a good," Kurtz said. "But it's inappropriateto structure the funding in such a way to favor one approachwithout any scientific basis for making that decision."

Robert Abbott, president and chief executive officer of SanDiego-based Viagene Inc., told BioWorld that line-itemappropriations are very controversial because so many peer-review processes have been established in the U.S. todetermine the award of grants and contracts for medicalresearch.

"One has to be suspicious of companies who are pursuing aline-item approach, as it could be that their clinical data isnot supporting peer-review awards," Abbott said. "We believeit's very clear that generating antibodies against HIV is notgoing to have major therapeutic impact."

Viagene is also working on an AIDS vaccine based on theenhancement of killer T cells.

MicroGeneSys's vaccine is based on a recombinant form ofgp160, the outer coat of the AIDS virus. According to recentresults from a study carried out at Walter Reed, 97 percent ofasymptomatic HIV-infected patients treated withMicroGeneSys's gp160 vaccine VaxSyn developed notablevaccine-induced antibodies and cellular immune responsesthought to be important in combating HIV infection.

-- Michelle Slade Associate Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.