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Paper: HIV Grant Raises Questions

February 17, 2000

CHICAGO (AP) _ The former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV vaccine unit awarded an $8 million research grant to a company that hired him only a few months later, a newspaper reports.

In January, former CDC official Dr. William Heyward became the vice president for international clinical studies at VaxGen Inc., a vaccine maker based in Brisbane, Calif.

CDC and VaxGen officials confirmed Wednesday that Heyward played a key role in earmarking $8 million in funds in October for trials of a vaccine manufactured by VaxGen, according to today’s editions of the Chicago Tribune.

The money is to be used at five U.S. trial sites for AIDSVAX, the only HIV vaccine undergoing advanced testing. It is designed to control HIV infection by generating a type of protein that may be able to prevent the virus from attaching to immune cells.

Heyward could not be reached for comment Wednesday by the newspaper. VaxGen and CDC officials said Heyward had cleared his role in the grant allocation with CDC attorneys.

Don Francis, VaxGen’s president, said he and Heyward had discussed the possibility of Heyward’s employment with VaxGen for about two years, but said they halted negotiations before the October decision to avoid a conflict of interest.

The CDC’s general counsel office, however, is reviewing whether post-employment restrictions policies would apply to the VaxGen matter, a spokesman for the health agency said.

U.S. Rep. John Porter, R.-Ill., who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee on biomedical research, said Heyward’s role in the AIDSVAX trial grant raises questions of a conflict of interests.

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