Top French AIDS Scientist Goes American

PARIS--Luc Montagnier, whose group here at the Pasteur Institute first isolated the AIDS virus in 1983, is teaming up with an American businessman to create a new research institute in cell and molecular biology at Queens College in Flushing, New York. Although the center's main priority will be AIDS research, it will also focus on other chronic human diseases.

Until earlier this month, Montagnier served as head of Pasteur's high-powered AIDS and retrovirus research department. He plans to maintain his own laboratory unit and stay involved in two Paris-based organizations he co-founded: the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and the Luc Montagnier AIDS research center.

Montagnier was lured to Queens by college alumnus Bernard Salick, former chief of a network of cancer care centers in the United States. Besides donating $4.5 million of his own money to start the institute, Salick and Queens officials will attempt to raise some $15 million from the state of New York and an additional $15 million from private sources. "The outlook is very good," says Queens spokesperson Ron Cannava, "because Salick has tremendous contacts with the pharmaceutical industry." Montagnier's plans were first reported in The New York Times.

The center will hire five senior-level scientists as professors at Queens College. Montagnier told ScienceNOW that the center's AIDS research will be focused primarily on developing an AIDS vaccine and finding therapies "that would relieve patients from having to be treated every day for the rest of their lives." Although some Pasteur researchers may accompany him, Montagnier says the new institute "will be mostly an American center, run by Americans." Montagnier adds that he has begun sounding out some U.S. scientists about coming to Queens, although he declines to identify them.

The center will take about 2 years to construct, but Montagnier says he's eager to begin work in temporary lab space at the college. A prime reason for skipping over the Atlantic, Montagnier says, is that discoveries in the United States can be exploited much more rapidly than in France: "There is a greater potential for having findings applied by industry and biotechnology companies."