Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Frank Young says academic researchers are choosing to stay at home for "the big bucks" in research grants instead of volunteering to help the government respond to the AIDS crisis.
In a speech at a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Young said Monday he believed "the academic community has markedly failed in the AIDS problem."University researchers, he said, "are being irresponsible because they want to stand on the sidelines and grab the big bucks instead of taking the heat" of helping to make AIDS policy decisions in Washington.
Young, 56, said scientists from his generation felt an obligation to contribute time to government service and that he gave up a laboratory with $2 million in research grants to take on his government job.
Most academic researchers now, he said, refuse to give any time to the government, even as the nation confronts what Young called "an extremely serious disease" in acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Young said the FDA is attempting to hasten the approval process needed to put new AIDS drugs on the market, but he said there is a shortage of the experts needed to evaluate drug applications and testing results.
Right now, he said, there are 162 drugs being evaluated, but the agency has only 127 people available to sift through applications that may include 100,000 pages.
Without the help of experts from academic laboratories, said Young, "the process will be slowed."
The commissioner said he repeatedly has asked academic researchers to spend two years in government service, at their same academic salary, to help battle AIDS. But, he said, "they don't want to leave their laboratories. I see very few people willing to pay the price."
Officials at several major research institutions declined to comment on Young's statements, although Martin Hersch, a Harvard University researcher, said it still is common for scientists to spend several years early in their careers in government laboratories such as those at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
Young said of the 162 AIDS drugs now in some phase of evaluation and testing by his agency, three are vaccines. Tests of the vaccines, he said, are at least two years away and when those tests do occur "it's going to be horrible."
He said there is no laboratory animal that can be used to test AIDS drugs and the vaccines will have to be tested on human patients.