Alex ConstantineTHE NEXT PHASE OF ANTHRAX "VACCINATIONS"Sun Feb 20, 2005 01:4522.214.171.124
PROJECT ANTHRAX VI: -
VAXGEN'S DR. DONALD FRANCIS, CO-CREATOR OF AIDS,
THE THAI EXPERIMENTS & THE NEXT PHASE OF
By Alex Constantine
Colonel David Franz was a cheerful "counter-terrorist." He told ABC News
on April 4, 2002 that a "lot of good" had come of the anthrax attacks.
Sad Sacks and Dreary Donnas may tremble because "five people have died,
but we've put about $6 billion in our budget." Thumbs up. A sunny
disposition can carry one far in the military heirarchy. Dr. Franz was
appointed to the Homeland Security Science and Technology Committee in
February 2004 by Dr. Charles E. McQueary (former president of General
Dynamics), undersecretary for science and technology at the Department
of Homeland Security.
Biological threats loomed on the horizon, the Pentagon's viral
visionaries assured with psychic certainty. Peculiar, though ... read
the small print on the packaging and it's clear that the newly emerging
diseases and the vaccines created to repel them hung in ... CLUSTERS.
Ingri Cassel comments, "Cipro and smallpox vaccine have much in common
besides capturing America's urgent attention." Alas, the corporate
parents of the companies that produce "these favored elixirs for anthrax
and smallpox bioterrorism are linked, strangely enough, to an infamous
history involving contaminated blood, the Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA), and even the Nazi [ties] that the FBI doesn't seem anxious to
Cipro is manufactured by Germany's Bayer AG, and "the smallpox vaccine's
newly formed producers are Acambis [formerly OraVax, the West Nile
people]. ... All have jaded histories. The `Big Three' - Bayer, Baxter,
and Rhone-Poulenc - are infamously known for having infected more than
7,000 American hemophiliacs with the AIDS virus during the early 1980s.
They admitted foreknowledge in selling HIV-tainted blood clotting
products and settled the class action case for $100,000 per claimant."1
Two shrouded power bases of the Third Reich, Bayer and Hoechst, were
spun from IG Farben following World War Two. Hermann Schmitz, president
of Farben during the war (which had partial control of the Deutsche
Bank) "held as much stock in Standard Oil of New Jersey as did the
Rockefellers," according to author Paul Manning. He wrote that on August
10, 1944, the Rockefeller-Farben group filtered flight capital through
"affiliated German/French, American, British and Swiss banks `for the
new Germany.'" The reserves secured "the sophisticated distribution of
national and corporate assets to safe havens" across the globe, ensuring
the continuation of the "Neuordnung (New Order)" for the petrochemical,
drug and banking cartels.2
An upcoming distiller of the said "elixirs," joining BioPort and Bayer,
is VaxGen (owned by Genentech ((55.6%-owned by by Hoffmann-La Roche
(((owned by Roche AG of Switzerland, also an ally of Farben and the
In November 2004, the company publicized a contract under the auspices
of Project BioShield worth $877 million over five years, with the
government paying VaxGen to produce 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine.
In addition, the company is to receive $123 million in further payments
from the government in late 2007.3
And it's just one more well-hyped boondoggle if the history of AidsVax,
the company's failed HIV drug, is any indication.
On October 3, 1999, the Times of London reported that before VaxGen went
public, "the most important government cheerleader for AidsVax" - Dr
William Heyward, head of HIV vaccine research at the CDC - "had a SECRET
DEAL to join the company." From the CDC, Dr. Heyward "lobbied
policymakers and approved $8 million in grants for VaxGen. But the
company had already drawn this chart on his future duties, and in
January 2000, he joined ex-CDC staffer Dr. Donald Francis, VaxGen
president, who also hired former CDC deputy director Dr Walter Dowdle to
head its influential data monitoring board."
In US v William L. Heyward, prosecutors charged him with violation of
anti-graft laws. Dr. Heyward skipped up the corporate ladder to a VP's
office at VaxGen, but eventually confessed to the flagrant conflict of
interest, paid a $32,500 fine "and escaped a high-profile criminal trial
that might have proved devastating to the AidsVax project," the Times
Next thing you know, on March 17 2003, a class action lawsuit was thrown
at VaxGen. The suit claimed securities fraud after Dr. Heyward wrote a
series of glowing reports on the potential of AidsVax that inflated the
stock price but proved baseless when the drug failed its clinical
A word about those "trials": As we shall see, there was little that was
"clinical" about them. Testing of the vaccine was sponsored by the NIH,
FDA, World Bank, UN agencies and the International Aids Vaccine
The tests were overseen by Dr. Donald Pinkston Francis, president of
VasGen, who, along with molecular biologist Dr. Philip Berman, founded
the company in 1995. Dr. Francis, 62, was bestowed with an honorary
Doctor of Science degree from Harvard in 1979. Since 1978, he has been
chief of the epidemiology division at the Hepatitis Labs Division of the
CDC. Under the auspices of the Agency for International Development
(AID), he served as an epidemiologist in Rivers State, Nigeria (1971).
He was American "epidemiological intelligence service officer" at the
CDC (1971-73).(In And The Band Played On, Randy Shilts's 1987 Aids book,
Dr. Francis is found on no less than 76 pages, a driven, scolding, at
times hysterical presence. In the movie, he's played by Full Metal
Jacket's Matthew Modine."5)
Dr. Leonard Horowitz, an indepenent authority on public health education
and the origins of AIDS, writes that Dr. Francis had "intimate
connections to the U.S. Government agencies, programs and people
(including Max Essex and Robert Gallo) that CREATED numerous AIDS-like
and Ebola-like viruses during the `Special Virus Cancer Program' of the
late 1960s and early 1970s..."6
Dr. Francis is one of the instigators of Aids, as Horowitz deconstructs
the history of the disease under the Neuordnung.7
The London Times detailed the "clinical trials" conducted by Dr.
Francis's team in Thailand. As Dr. Heyward sees it, "only through such
trials will further knowledge be gained". Thumbs up.
AIDSVAX: THE VAXGEN EXPERIMENT The Sunday Times Magazine (UK) October 3,
1999 By Brian Deer
... At first glance, Thailand is a strange location to carry out medical
trials.... Corruption is de rigeueur, while police are accused by
Amnesty International of "extra-judicial killings". Much of its profile
relies on sex: first with young women and later with children.
Since the coup, however, quick cheap, experiments on the Thai population
have been added to the country's attractions. Dozens of projects are
currently in progress, run by foreign pharmaceutical companies and
sponsored by the CDC and WHO. With an estimated 800,000 Thais infected
with HIV, Aids is the big one, with tests of drugs, immune-system
stimulants, and top of the list Francis's AidsVax trial.
It makes sense to test products where the risk of Aids is greatest, but
my attention was drawn to potential problems during a conference in a
Bangkok hotel. The topic was Aids vaccines. Francis spoke. And a doctor
pointed out that some volunteers in an AZT trial were mothers from
remote hill tribes. "They come across the border from Burma." he said.
"They don't speak Thai, so there is the question of whether they can
understand enough to give informed consent."
The question was brushed aside ("They keep coming back.") and might not
have meant much if I hadn't also met an activist from the northern town
of Chiang Mai. Despite grilling 11 people who swallowed tablets daily,
he complained that he couldn't discover even the name of the product or
the pharmaceutical company involved. This man was a former heroin user,
so I asked him where VaxGen was recruiting. "Go to Khlong Toei," he
said. "By Port Authority Building. That's where they'll get people for
Khlong Toei is a slum; a sewage-stinking wasteland; a cauldron of
disease and drug use. The better-off live in concrete hutches, with
wire-fenced windows and balconies. Next down in the social scale are
wooden-shack coops on plots of flood-prone ground. Then there are
kennels: festering shantytown alleys of plank, sheet-iron and debris
sheds. The "streets" are dim corridors, with boardwalk floors, cluttered
with children and dogs. At night frail figures shuffle around, suffering
from Aids, tuberculosis or both.
Thailand was once praised for anti-HIV efforts in disease hot zones such
as this. But evidence suggests that since the 1992 coup priorities have
changed. In 1992, a health minister complained that talk about the virus
had "seriously affected tourism". And now, official figures show that
Aids prevention has been slashed by one third against comparable public
The biggest cuts have been in initiatives aimed specifically at drug
misusers. "There used to be a project for clean needles in the early
90s, but now it's gone," a spokeswoman for a Khlong Toei charity, the
Duang Prateep Foundation, told me....
Nobody could explain the thinking, but the effect on the junkies can be
measured. Blood tests reveal that HIV prevalence peaked among female
prostitutes in 1993 - when 30% were positive - and has since fallen back
to 21%. Among rent boys, prevalence peaked in the following year at 18%,
and is now half that figure. But prevalence among heroin-injectors has
leapt from 31% in 1994 to a staggering 47% now.
Were these changes evidence that the government were allowing the
junkies to be put at greater risk to make them useful for experiments?
(Health department officials told me that if AidsVax is marketed, they
expect a billion-dollar manufacturing plant.) I couldn't find out.
People wouldn't talk when I raised such contentious concerns. Even
Bangkok's Medicines Sans Frontieres staff went silent when asked about
Francis is convinced that nothing is amiss, and his collaborators voice
no worries. "All have assured me that this has been done ethically," he
told me, when eventually we met. "We are going out of our way not to
increase the vulnerability of an already vulnerable population." The
trial was conducted in Thailand, he said, for scientific reasons.
Different parts of the world are linked with different HIV subtypes,
with their myriad subsidiary strains. B subtype strains, for instance,
are most common in North America, Europe and Australasia; A, C and D in
Africa. In Thailand, there's a mix of B and E strains and, for technical
reasons to do with E strains, the company argues that success is more
likely there "than anywhere else in the world."
But there are aspects of the project which suggest that the junkies may
be involved in an unusual way. A parallel trial among gay men at
American clinics is having problems finding and keeping volunteers, due
to scepticism towards the venture. But at Kachit's clinics the programme
has features which may help to avoid these snags. The junkies get
methadone, an oral heroin substitute, plus $10 expenses for each of up
to 17 visits. The risk is the appearance of offering drugs and money as
inducements to this desperate group.
There's also a feature of the experiment's design that seems
self-contradictory. If the methadone liquid got people off injecting
heroin, the volunteers' risk of infection would slump and they would be
of little use to the vaccine trial. In fact, documents drawn up with the
CDC and WHO show that that 7% of clinic users are expected to become
HIV-infected each year. So, despite the oral methadone, they keep
injecting heroin. They may even buy it with VaxGen's money and have an
increased risk of getting Aids.
The logic of the trial creates a dilemma for Francis. The moral
uncertainties about using junkies as GUINEA PIGS might be offset by
humanity's greater needs. But there would need to be plausible
scientific grounds to think that AidsVax might work. And on that the
VaxGen experiment is open to even greater doubts. ***** When Francis
returns from his trips to Bangkok, it's to Brisbane, a community on the
San Francisco peninsula, midway between the city and its airport. His
home and workplace both looks eastward across the bay: towards Oakland
and, beyond that, America. His home is on a hill and lined with Chinese
paintings. His office is by the shore, in black glass.
He huddles weekly with his senior colleagues: VaxGen's vice-president,
Dr Phillip Berman, and its chairman, Dr Robert Nowinski. Berman, aged
49, is a molecular biologist. He's heavy set with curly hair and has
laboured on the science for 15 years. Nowinski, 52, is bald and wears
glasses. He's a biotechnology entrepreneur from Seattle. His main claim
to fame is having founded and sold a company, ICOS, which boasts
Microsoft's Bill Gates as an owner.
The key document at many of their sessions is a "special issue" of a
prestigious journal, called Aids Research and Human Retroviruses. It's
dated last October. Twenty papers are inside and they're a rave for
VaxGen's ideas. Dr Seth Berkley, the International Aids Vaccine
Initiative's president, declares that politics and economics are bigger
obstacles to progress than "a scientific barrier". Dr Mary Lou
Clements-Mann, a researcher for a rival company's vaccine (and who died
in a Swissair plane crash off Nova Scotia last year), shrugs off
pessimistic "misperceptions". ...
When visitors drop by, Berman outlines his own paper. It sets out how
AidsVax is meant to work. "Many lines of evidence suggest that a strong
antibody response to the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein," he explains,
"will be an essential feature of any Aids vaccine." Berman sketches what
this means on a board in the conference room, across the corridor from
Francis's office. The billions spent on Aids have produced unparalleled
insights on HIV, which are the platform on which he builds. The virus
infects. The immune system checks it with, among other things,
specially-tailored antibodies. But the virus mutates around these
adversaries. So the immune system tailors new defences. The virus then
mutates and immunity responds. It's like a leapfrog competition.
Eventually, the immune system tires of all this leaping, packs up and
then it's Aids.
Of all the different parts of HIV, the envelope glycoprotein gp120 is
the part that mutates the most. This sits in blobs around the virus,
like loose balls of wool, on the tips of protruding spikes. Berman zooms
on the moment a blob meets a cell, which is 1m times bigger than the
virus. Part of the blob's surface locks onto a receptor (like a
data-port where cells get information). The blob then unravels and locks
another of its parts onto a second sort of receptor on the cell. This
cues the cell to pull the virus inside. Infection is complete.
Here, Berman argues, is where AidsVax helps: by blocking this
double-lock connection. Summoned in advance, due to earlier vaccination,
antibodies stick to key parts of the blob and so stop it from locking on
the cell. If the virus is a burglar, these antibodies are bullterriers,
waiting for a leg to appear through the window on which to snap their
jaws. Once they've got hold, the virus is paralysed, to be disposed of
by other kinds of cell.
He makes things sound simple. Visitors are impressed. Investors wonder:
why dither in Bangkok? But the science expounded in the journal issue
doesn't convince many people who grasp the detail. "It's a waste of
time," Dr Robert Gallo, America's pre-eminent retrovirologist, told me.
Prof Andrew McMichael, Aids vaccine chief at Oxford's Institute of
Molecular Medicine, said: "I wouldn't have the belief that this will
work." And Dr Jean-Paul Levy, head of France's vaccine programme, spat:
"It forgets one century of science."
For all the plausibility of
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