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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Doctor or a Ho? 

In a Feb. 14 AIDS article by Dr. Lawrence K. Altman, the paper (New York Times) reported the following:

"Laboratory tests in Dr. Ho's laboratory and elsewhere have shown that the strain from the man whose case started the investigation is resistant to 19 of the 20 licensed anti-retroviral drugs."

The Times also said:

"The second virus is from an unidentified patient in San Diego who was apparently infected before the New York City man. It was found by scouring the records of a commercial laboratory, ViroLogic Inc. of South San Francisco, and portions of its genetic makeup closely resemble the molecular pattern of the New York City man's virus, Dr. Ho said.

"Dr. Ho's team sent the partner's virus to ViroLogic for testing. Doctors from around the country send thousands of H.I.V. specimens to the company for testing." (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/14/health/14aids.html?pagewanted=1)

The Times failed to mention that AIDS expert David Ho, MD, sits on the Scientific Advisory Board of the ViroLogic company; a fact that should have been reported by Altman.

I believe it is a conflict of interest for Ho to cite ViroLogic as an entity without informing Times readers of his connection to the biomedical firm.

Michael Petrelis, San Francisco Activist. While these connections do not necessarily reflect ill-intent on behalf of any of the players, the lack of transparency and failure of media entities to understand the importance of them is mind boggling.

For instance, consider a ViroLogic Inc. press release which states: "Understanding the clinical utility of Replication Capacity in the management of HIV-infected patients is currently the subject of a $1.5M grant awarded to ViroLogic by the National Institutes of Health."

In light of interference of the current administration with regard to education related to health, particularly its emphasis on abstinence as opposed to condom use, makes these associations all the more insidious.

If, as Michael Bates, M.D., Vice President of Clinical Research at ViroLogic Inc. is insisting, the case of the current AIDS patient in New York "reinforces the importance of resistance testing in the management of HIV patients, including those individuals who have not received prior antiretroviral treatment," it can't be all that bad for business if ViroLogic Inc. is touting its own technologies as being responsible for identifying the highly pathogenic isolate of HIV. Further, ViroLogic's boasts that its analysis confirmed the data from the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center (ADARC), and "importantly, revealed therapeutic options that informed the selection of a drug regimen for the patient."

Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that based on the business objectives of ViroLogic Inc. (or any biotechnology company) as well as the nature of their 1.5 million grant from the NIH, the existence of this new strain represents a fantastic opportunity for the company, both in touting the value of their products and technologies in the identification and treatment of the new pathogenic isolate, as well as legitimizing the government grant. Money well spent.

In this perfectly fair world we live in, perhaps after ViroLogic Inc. makes its first $1.5 million directly attributable to the fear and hype surrounding this new resistant strain of HIV, they'll donate the equivalent of the NIH grant to a program that promotes condom usage or teaches children how to protect themselves from viruses. The NIH certainly won't, and nor, it seems will Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who is terribly preoccupied preventing children from witnessing the devastatingly dangerous spectacle of lesbians making maple syrup.

In the meanwhile, PBS can start preparing a show where the animated bunny named Buster visits the hospital wards of youngsters dying from AIDS to learn how parents, friends and families deal with the grief and sadness resulting from failed policies and misguided priorities. It appears these "lifestyles" are more in keeping with Margaret Spelling's perceived constituency. Perhaps Merck will have fast-tracked and released a new potent anti-depressant for kids and parents by then -- and a sponsorship to ensure the airing of the episode.

For now, at least we have you to help quell the imaginations of conspiracy theorists and cynics by demanding responsible disclosure from the media, who with a few rare exceptions, as Randy Shilts once taught us, don't have the faintest clue. Thank you Michael.

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