THE AIDS CURE PROJECT - QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
The AIDS Cure Project is a proposal for an intense research effort focused on a cure for AIDS, the kind of project that Bill Clinton promised but never defined during his campaign. The main goal of the AIDS Cure Project is to "widen the net;" that is, to pursue a diverse range of theories and approaches to a cure, in addition to the "mainstream" ideas currently being studied at the NIH. In this way the Project would augment, not duplicate, current efforts, with the goal of shortening the time to a cure from decades to years.
The AIDS Cure Project would bring together a team of researchers from diverse disciplines at a primary location, to maximize the "brainstorming" that can only happen in face-to-face encounters. Staff at this location would interact with contributing researchers from around the world. Primary research staff would be required to suspend all financial conflicts of interest and work exclusively for the Project. The Project would have powers of "eminent domain" as an incentive for drug companies to cooperate. Legislation based on the AIDS Cure Project has been introduced into Congress as H.R. 761.
Why a whole new project? Can't we just improve the NIH?
No. The structure and bureaucracy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can't help but work against innovative, creative research, and the Institutes are impeded by conflicts of interest, excessive influence from the pharmaceutical industry, and the "old-boy network." Also, NIH granting procedures drastically slow research, and divert money to university overhead costs, etc. rather than to the search for a cure.
Why force scientists to move to a central location? Isn't that asking a little much?
They've done it before, for the Manhattan and Apollo Projects. And The AIDS Cure
Project wouldn't be in the middle of the desert. It would be in an area with a high incidence of AIDS, maybe even New York City, so researchers could study people with AIDS, not just a virus. If the Project is seen as being on the cutting edge of research, many would be eager to participate; if only to free themselves from the continual pain of grant-writing, which can consume up to 40% of their time.
Why ask researchers to suspend all conflicts of interest? Why not just full disclosure?
President Clinton asks for similar suspensions from his Cabinet, why not from AIDS researchers? Full disclosure will not rectify the bias inherent in research done by investigators who hold stock in the involved drug company or who are paid to promote the drug they're researching. We need scientists whose only motivation is to find a cure, so that science - not profit - dictates the research agenda.
How much will it cost?
$1.84 billion over 5 years.
Isn't that a pipe dream in today's political climate?
Congress always seems to be able to "find the money" if the demand is great enough. $6 billion for Midwest flood relief in a few weeks. $3 billion for California earthquake relief in a few weeks. Isn't AIDS a national disaster of equal urgency? Did the November elections have any effect on the need for a cure? Of course not. It's up to us to build a national demand for this, not to get caught up in appropriations games.
Why a Project just for AIDS? Why not one for cancer and heart disease?
In the U.S., HIV is the leading cause of death in men aged 25-44. In this same age group,it is the fourth leading cause of death in women, the second leading cause of death in African-American women, and the third leading cause of death in Latina women. These numbers increase every year, unlike other causes of death, which remain relatively constant.
What is eminent domain?
Eminent domain is the government's right to seize private property for the public good, with just compensation. While it is usually used for highways and other public land uses, it has been used in times of war as well as in peace by the Department of Defense to procure patents. The Manhattan Project had this power, and The AIDS Cure Project would need it to ensure that drug companies can't stop all research into a compound simply because it doesn't "fit into their corporate agenda."
Won't that drive drug companies from research?
The pharmaceutical industry has always said that any government intervention will drive them from research. They predicted disaster when the FDA was formed in 1938. The AIDS Cure Project will most likely never seize any patents, but use the threat of eminent domain to ensure that drug companies cooperate and do not stall research into vital compounds. Actually, any company making a good faith effort to research a drug would receive little interference from the Project.
What's the next step?
A groundswell of grassroots support is needed to get something as ground-breaking as The AIDS Cure Project through Congress. Endorsements for the Project are continuously being received, and it has received broad support from AIDS and non-AIDS organizations alike. Remember, endorsements are sought only for the two-page "Demand," not for HR 761, although groups from around the country are also working to find more co-sponsors for the bill, and the list continues to grow.
Congress must respond to AIDS as it does to other national emergencies: quickly. We'll do whatever it takes: demos, letter and phone zaps, civil disobedience, visits to Congresspeople, etc. We believe this is the best way to find a cure, so we will push for it no matter how difficult the battle seems. Bringing the relevant issues to the fore will be an added benefit in our struggle to make The AIDS Cure Project a reality.