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AIDS Treatment News
Gallo Starts Major AIDS Research Institute in Baltimore
John S. James
June 2, 1995

Leading AIDS scientist Robert Gallo, M.D. is leaving government service after 30 years at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, to start the Institute of Human Virology, which will be part of the University of Maryland system. The new Institute will focus on AIDS, but will also do research in other human viral diseases, and in cancer.

The Institute is being started with over $16 million in funding from the state of Maryland, the University of Maryland, the city of Baltimore, and other sources. It will begin operations this fall with a staff of 50; Dr. Gallo hopes it will eventually grow to have a staff of about 250 and an annual budget of $30 million.

Dr. Gallo told AIDS TREATMENT NEWS that the Institute will focus on basic research, primarily to develop better therapies. Specific areas include gene therapy, antisense, looking for treatments which target cellular factors which do not mutate as rapidly as the virus (e.g. hydroxyurea), and hormonal control (e.g. HCG, the hormone found at high levels in pregnant women which may help to control Kaposi's sarcoma). Other research will involve manipulation of cytokines to treat HIV. An immediate goal is to "hit the ground running" with a focus on KS.

Dr. Gallo noted the calls for virology research centers near rain forests, to watch for emerging viruses. He said we also need centers elsewhere which are immediately ready to study viruses which break through, as AIDS did.

Dr. Gallo will be program director for basic research. He will share leadership with two other program directors, William Blattner, M.D., in epidemiology, and Robert Redfield, M.D. in clinical research. Dr. Gallo believes this is the first AIDS research institute to combine basic research, clinical research, and epidemiology -- which will allow, for example, the development of a cohort of well-studied patients who can volunteer for trials of new therapies which are particularly appropriate for them. Gallo also hopes to start a biotechnology company, to be called Virex, which will allow new discoveries to move immediately into drug development, without waiting until business executives elsewhere get interested.

The Institute is also beginning collaborations with leading private and government research centers in the U.S., in Europe, and in Asia. It is setting up an ultra-modern telecommunications system, with the help of one of the founders of CSPAN.

Dr. Gallo praised Parris N. Glendening, Governor of Maryland, whose brother died of AIDS last year. Governor Glendening, who formerly taught at the University of Maryland, has been personally involved in negotiations for the Institute for the last six months.

Comment Dr. Gallo has been one of the most productive AIDS scientists. At the National Cancer Institute he was hampered by lack of a clinical partner, problems with technology transfer, government rules which are becoming increasingly burdensome despite activists' work, and repeated investigations resulting from years'-long demonization by the CHICAGO TRIBUNE and by the office of Congressman John Dingell (Democrat, Michigan). The new Institute should allow more effective focus on the task at hand of finding better treatments for AIDS.