# ScienceScope

Science  31 Jul 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5377, pp. 625
1. # Green Light for Antisense Drug

After a decade of fencing with skeptics, drug developers soon hope to celebrate the launch of the first “antisense” DNA drug to hit the market.

Called fomivirsen, the compound deploys a mirror-image copy of viral DNA to block replication of cytomegalovirus. The virus causes retinitis, an eye infection leading to blindness that mainly afflicts AIDS patients. The drug won a thumbs-up last week from a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, and the way is now clear for FDA approval. Although fomivirsen (or Vitravene) must be injected directly into the eye, its developer, Isis Pharmaceuticals of Carlsbad, California, says it has a big advantage over some antiviral drugs: Targeted locally, it causes only mild side effects such as increased pressure and inflammation.

Even antisense critic Arthur Krieg of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, calls the FDA panel vote “a landmark event.” Five years ago, “the conventional wisdom was that antisense was a fraud,” he says. “Isis deserves a tremendous amount of credit for bringing sense to the antisense field.”

2. # Reform for Italian Concorsi

Observers are eager to see how Italian universities adapt to new rules for recruiting professors that eliminate a notorious system widely viewed as not only inefficient but rife with cronyism and nepotism.

Under the old “megaconcorsi,” thousands of applications for academic posts landed at the Science Ministry in Rome every few years, taking years to process. The system “represented the Kafkaesque culmination of the triumph of bureaucracy,” says astronomer Margherita Hack of Rome's Accademia dei Lincei.

Under the measure approved by the Senate on 1 July, each university will run its own concorsi. Critics say the reform is far from ideal: Although university panels must be dominated by outsiders, their selection “remains fully exposed to systematic manipulation by the academic superpower groups,” asserts Aldo Massullo, a member of the Senate's Education Commission. Massullo notes that the reform also fails to address an underlying problem: An Italian academic post means tenure for life, with no standards for quality or productivity.