FEDERAL INQUIRY FINDS MISCONDUCT BY A DISCOVERER OF THE AIDS VIRUS
By Philip J. Hilts
New York Times 31 Dec. 1992
After three years of investigations, the Federal Office of Research
Integrity today found that Dr. Robert C. Gallo, the American co-discoverer
of the cause of AIDS, had committed scientific misconduct. The investigators
said he had "falsely reported" a critical fact in the scientific
paper of 1984 in which he described isolating the virus that causes AIDS.
The new report said Dr. Gallo had intentionally misled colleagues to
gain credit for himself and diminish credit due to his French competitors.
The report also said that his false statement had "impeded potential
AIDS research progress" by diverting scientists from potentially fruitful
work with the French researchers.
Dr. Gallo has faced questions about his scientific claims ever since
the paper was published in Science magazine in April 1984. Most of his
critics argued that Dr. Gallo had tried to take credit for work that the
French had done and that he may even have taken the virus the French were
studying and claimed it as his own. At the time, the virus was difficult
to isolate and grow in sufficient quantity for researchers.
Also charged with the misconduct was Dr. Mikulas Popovic, a Czechoslovak
immigrant who actually carried out the crucial AIDS experiments under Dr.
Dr. Gallo said today that he was not guilty and would appeal the decision.
"After reviewing everything I and my colleagues have ever published
on the discovery of the AIDS virus and the development of the AIDS blood
test, the office of Research Integrity could only take issue with few trivial
mistakes and a single sentence written by me."
The Federal conclusions are "utterly unwarranted," he said.
"On a broader level," he added, "this endless and incompetent
Government investigation should be of concern to everybody seeking to advance
medical knowledge. My laboratory's contributions to the advancement of
medical science are undisputed. For the past three years, however, I have
spent a substantial amount of my time responding to issues" raised
in the investigations.
The Office of Research Integrity was created this year in the Department
of Health and Human Services to handle the final review of scientific misconduct
cases within agencies like the National Institute of Health, the Food and
Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The only remaining step for Dr. Gallo is to appeal the case to a judicial
board within the department.
Little Credit for French
The report said Dr. Gallo intentionally misled scientific colleagues
by saying he had grown an AIDS virus in his laboratory for study and he
had not grown or studied a similar French strain of the virus. In fact,
Dr. Gallo himself had grown the French virus and used it in furthering
his own research, the report said.
While searching for the cause of AIDS, Dr. Gallo had received a sample
of a virus being studied by French researchers and had worked extensively
with it to extend his own discoveries, the Federal report concluded. Dr.
Gallo left little credit for the French scientists in his 1984 paper because
he said he had not been able to grow enough of the French AIDS virus: It
"has not been transmitted to a permanently growing cell line for true
isolation and therefore has been difficult to obtain in quantity,"
Dr. Gallo has said that this sentence meant simply that the virus was
hard for anyone to grow it, not that he himself had failed to grow it.
In fact, investigators showed that the French virus had been grown in cell
lines in Dr. Gallo's own laboratory, and worked with there.
Referring to the sentence, the new report said, "Dr. Gallo falsely
reported the status of L.A.V. research when he wrote the statement, and
this constitutes scientific misconduct." L.A.V. refers to the French
strain of the AIDS virus. The report went on, "The explanations that
Dr. Gallo proffered for the statement are neither credible when the evidence
is considered, nor do they vitiate the impropriety of falsely reporting
the status of L.A.V. research.
In addition, the report found that Dr. Gallo warranted censure on these
four other counts:
- Referring to his role as a referee for a different article submitted
to a journal by his French competitors, in which he altered several lines
to favor his own hypothesis about the AIDS virus, the report said the revisions
were "gratuitous, self-serving and improper."
- As to the many errors in the 1984 paper, which was co-authored with
Dr. Popovic, the report concluded, "In light of his role as senior
author, Dr. Gallo must bear substantial responsibility for the numerous
discrepancies, including four instances of scientific misconduct attributed
to Dr. Popovic."
- On the standards of Dr. Gallo's laboratory record-keeping, the report
said, "Especially in the light of the ground-breaking nature of this
research and its profound public health implications, O.R.I. believes that
the careless and unacceptable keeping of research records reflects irresponsible
laboratory management that has permanently impaired the ability to trace
the important steps taken."
- Dr. Gallo, the report said, also failed to determine in a timely way
the exact origin of some of the crucial cells in which he grew the finicky
virus. Like the viruses themselves, the cells were also found to have been
borrowed from another scientist without giving him due credit in the paper.
Later Dr. Gallo also refused to share the cells freely with other scientists
trying to duplicate the important work, the report said.
Inquiries Begun in 1989
The dispute over Dr. Gallo's claims became so linked to national scientific
prestige that the Presidents of France and the United States attempted
to end the conflict in 1987 when they agreed to a 50-50 split of credit
and patent royalties from work with the AIDS virus and the blood test to
But the issue did not go away, and Federal investigations were begun
in 1989, after a reporter, John Crewdson, of the Chicago Tribune wrote
a 50,000-word article laying out many of the charges against Dr. Gallo
and his laboratory.
An initial Federal inquiry was conducted by the Office of Scientific
Integrity at the Institutes of Health. That office examined all of the
notes from Dr. Gallo's laboratory on the AIDS research and interviewed
scores of people involved in the work. That office's report was turned
over to the Office of Research Integrity.
Dr. Gallo has denied any wrongdoing in the most vehement terms. He has
also alleged that there is a conspiracy to discredit him and asked why
it is only his laboratory being investigated, and not that of Dr. Luc Montagnier,
the French laboratory leader who has largely escaped detailed scrutiny.
What's at Stake
In the great public health catastrophe of AIDS, the story of how the
virus that causes AIDS was isolated and a test for the presence developed
might be of only historical interest were it not for the fierce and unyielding
pride of the researchers and the millions of dollars the two Governments
receive annually in royalties from the manufacturers of the blood tests.
In a recent plea to the American Government, lawyers for the Institut
Pasteur in Paris, where the French work was done, asked the United States
to turn over half of the profits from the blood test - about $50 million
Dr. Gallo earns about $100,000 a year from the royalties on the blood
test, as does his French counterpart, Dr. Montagnier.
Michael Epstein, a lawyer for the Institut Pasteur, said in a telephone
interview today that in light of today's report the French would ask the
United States to renegotiate its agreement giving equal credit to each
country, so as to assign a larger share to France.
"this ought to move the U.S. Government to action," he said.
"Dr. Gallo has always told us that he was never able to grow L.A.V.
One of the most important reasons why Pasteur settled the dispute in 1987
was that Dr. Gallo told us that and said there was no evidence to the contrary.
Now even the U.S. Government is saying that he knowingly lied."
The new report reversed the findings by Dr. Bernadine Healy, director
of the National Institute of Health and Dr. Gallo's superior. After receiving
the report from the Office of Scientific Integrity, she concluded in September
1991 that Dr. Gallo did a number of things wrong but was not guilty of
the most serious charge, that of scientific misconduct.
Investigators at National Institutes of Health and in Congress disagreed,
as did a panel of independent scientists. *
Years of Scientific Dispute
1983 French scientist under Luc Montagnier at Pasteur Institute
report discovery of a virus that might be the cause of AIDS.
1984 Ignoring French claim, U.S. scientists at National Institutes
of Health under Dr. Robert C. Gallo announce discovery of such a virus
and proof that it causes AIDS.
1985 A blood test for antibodies to the AIDS virus is licensed.
The French sue the U.S. Government over the credit for the discovery of
1987 President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac
announce an agreement on sharing credit and divide royalties for the blood
1989 A Chicago Tribune article suggests that Dr. Gallo improperly
took credit for the Montagnier discovery.
MARCH 1990 A Tribune report asserts that Dr. Gallo's virus was
probably identical to the Pasteur Institute virus.
OCTOBER 1990 the National Institute of Health says it will open
a full-scale investigation of the matter by the Office of Scientific Integrity
because a preliminary investigation suggested the possibility of misconduct.
MAY 1991 Dr. Gallo formally concedes that the viral cultures
were probably contaminated by the French samples but maintains that he
is a co-discoverer.
SEPTEMBER 1991: Preliminary report by Office of Scientific Integrity
finds evidence of misconduct by Dr. Gallo. Final report holds that he is
not guilty of misconduct but deserves censure for permitting lapses and
misrepresentations by those under him.
MARCH 1992 New investigation of charges of perjury and patent
fraud announced by Inspector General of Department of Health and Human
Services, the General Accounting Office and a house subcommittee.
DEC. 30 1992 Report of Office of Research Integrity of Department
of Health and Human Services says Dr. Gallo grew a sample of Montagnier's
virus in his own laboratory, misled colleagues to gain credit for himself.