Big Shot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine

Big Shot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine

Big Shot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine

Big Shot: Passion, Politics, and the Struggle for an AIDS Vaccine

Synopsis

A veteran journalist dramatizes the controversial search for an AIDS vaccine--the players, the politics, the money--in a vivid, suspenseful story that reveals how science is done, and not done, in America today.

Excerpt

In the beginning, the search for an AIDS vaccine was essentially a cottage industry. Individuals and small groups of scientists, with limited budgets and ambitious ideas, explored many different vaccine approaches in small labs dotted around the world. This was in the mid-1980s, when the human immunodeficiency virus had just been identified as the cause of this frightening and fatal new disease.

During those years, I was a young reporter living in Atlanta and writing about medicine for publications read mainly by doctors. Most of the news stories that I wrote about AIDS included a refrain that went something like this: "Because the disease is fatal and there is no treatment, a preventive vaccine is the only real hope against the epidemic." Nearly twenty years later, treatments are available—mostly for insured people in wealthy countries—but still no vaccine has proved that it can keep anyone in the world safe from AIDS.

Treatments moved faster than vaccines for a variety of scientific, social, and economic reasons. The AIDS virus was identified in early 1984, and within a year scientists had figured out how to determine whether a given chemical could kill it in a test tube. This opened the door to drug discovery by enabling major pharmaceutical companies to sort through their vast chemical libraries, pick out compounds that might have virus-killing . . .

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