ScienceScope

Science  14 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5417, pp. 1097
  1. Clinical Clampdown

    A member of the U.S. biomedical elite—Duke University's Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina—was ordered to freeze most of its clinical research this week. Duke University stopped enrolling new patients in government-sponsored studies after receiving an order to halt from the Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

    OPRR officials could not be reached for comment, but Duke disclosed in a statement on 11 May that OPRR has been asking the university since December to bring its procedures into line with OPRR rules. Among other things, OPRR has asked Duke to keep more extensive records and create a second review panel to monitor a growing number of clinical trials. Duke offered some changes in March and April. But OPRR, displeased with “the scope and pace of [Duke's] implementation of corrective actions,” suspended patient enrollment in government-sponsored trials on 10 May.

    Duke's chancellor for health affairs, Ralph Snyderman, says “hundreds” of studies will be disrupted. University officials “absolutely were not” prepared for OPRR's order, he says, adding that say it took them by surprise. “From our perspective,” Snyderman says, “I don't believe any patient was put at risk,” but he is satisfying OPRR's requirements and hopes to get clinical research on track in a week.

  2. Pulling Up Their Genes

    France's genome research may soon get a big boost. The government is considering plans to pump an additional $330 million over the next 3 years into a gene research complex in the Paris suburb of Evry, according to a report this week in Le Monde.

    The extra spending is reportedly driven by worries that the French genome program is being left behind by major investments in gene research in the United States and the United Kingdom. Officials hope that by following suit, France will get its share of potentially lucrative genome patents.

    Officials at Génopôle—which includes the national gene sequencing center and several corporate labs—were not available for comment as Science went to press.

  3. Rocket Science

    Troubled by a string of commercial and military launch failures, NASA is reexamining its own unmanned rocket program. Over the last 9 months, the Defense Department and communications companies have lost billions of dollars worth of satellites to flawed lift-offs, including three in one recent 8-day span. Although NASA has a mostly unblemished record with its single-use rockets, space agency officials last week delayed the launch of a weather satellite and ordered a review of dozens more scheduled unmanned science flights.

    The review “is an extra precaution,” says a NASA engineer. “We'd like to stay out of the headlines.” He doesn't expect the extra look—which could be finished by next month—to cause delays for scientists with space-bound projects.

  4. Digging In

    After nearly 30 years of skirmishes among developers, archaeologists, and government officials, France has taken a big step toward regulating “rescue archaeology.” Culture minister Catherine Trautman last week unveiled a plan to end what she calls the “quasi-permanent crisis” by creating a new agency to oversee the excavation of ancient remains threatened by development projects.

    Last year, archaeologists went on strike to derail a plan to open such projects to competitive bidding, saying it would damage research (Science, 16 October 1998, p. 407). But now, scientists are mostly welcoming a proposal to replace a semiprivate archaeological contracting agency with a public entity under the culture and research ministries. Plans to involve government and academic researchers in projects are an “affirmation that rescue archaeology is a scientific activity and a public service,” says Françoise Audouze of the Center for Archaeological Research in Nanterre.

    But one archaeologists' union is unhappy with a complicated formula that will exempt small developers from paying for digs. It is calling for changes before the government presents the plan to Parliament this fall.

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