Science  17 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5605, pp. 323

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  1. Thai AIDS Trial Faces Delay

    Production problems and other issues will delay the largest planned AIDS vaccine trial by at least a year, Science has learned. The study—just the second efficacy trial ever for an AIDS vaccine—aims to test a pair of vaccines given in a one-two punch to some 16,000 participants in Thailand.

    One source of the delay has been “routine production issues” in filling vials with the Aventis Pasteur vaccine, which is made by stitching HIV genes into a harmless canarypox virus, says Jim Tartaglia, who heads the effort for Aventis. The project also requires Thai officials to renovate 40 health centers, seven hospitals, and one clinic, notes Nusara Thaitawat of the Thai Ministry of Health, which is running the study. The test—expected to take at least 4 years to complete—also involves a research team from the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and is largely funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

    Despite the delays, volunteer recruitment should start in September, Nusara says. And both Aventis and VaxGen, the other manufacturer, vow to have enough vaccine ready.

  2. Launch Problems Postpone European Comet Probe

    Comet Wirtanen won't be getting a visitor after all. As Science went to press, the European Space Agency indefinitely postponed the launch of the Rosetta spacecraft, which was scheduled to lift off this month from Kourou, French Guyana, and land on the comet in 2012. Officials decided they didn't want to risk losing the $700 million probe after last month's failure of an Ariane launch rocket similar to Rosetta's.


    ”It's a major setback,” says Rosetta researcher Marco Fulle of the Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. A new launch date probably wont come until 2004 or later, adds project scientist Gerhard Schwehm of the European Space Research and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Once a date is set, researchers can pick a new target.

  3. California Universities Face More R&D Budget Cuts

    State research funding took another body blow in the 2003–04 budget request released last week by California Governor Gray Davis. The plan would reduce the University of California's (UC's) research activities by 10%, to $259 million. That's on top of a 10% hit already doled out for the current fiscal year that ends in June (Science, 20 December 2002, p. 2305).

    Science isn't singled out in the $3.4 billion system—administrators, libraries, educational outreach, and student services would all take a hit. Faculty and staff would have their salaries frozen, and student fees would increase substantially to make up for the shortfall.

    The proposed cuts are “devastating,” says UC president Richard C. Atkinson. But given the state's deficit—$30 billion and climbing—legislators will have few options when they begin debating Davis's proposal this spring. In the meantime, UC officials are mulling over where to apply the knife.

  4. French University Threatens Closure Over Cash Crunch

    PARIS—A major research university hopes that its threat to temporarily shut down will force the government to cough up money for needed repairs and renovations. University of Orsay officials last week said they are planning to close the university, which employs some 3000 researchers and conducts nearly a third of France's basic physics research, for up to 3 weeks in February. The pause would reduce utility bills and help the school finish safety- related improvements, says president Xavier Chapuisat. “I am fed up with working in these lousy conditions,” says one scientist.

    The plan “took us by surprise, even though we knew there were problems,” Research Minister Claudie Haigneré told Science. She says the government is now exploring ways to avoid the shutdown, which researchers say will disrupt research and teaching.

  5. NIH Wouldn't Double Under House Budget Proposal

    With the economy sinking, war looming, and most of the 2003 federal budget still stuck in Congress, biomedical research advocates are worried about a planned 16% spending increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They got some good news last week when appropriators in the House of Representatives unveiled a spending bill with a 13% boost for NIH, to $26.5 billion, in the fiscal year that started last October. That's $689 million less than the amount requested by the White House and blessed by the Senate—a figure that would have completed the doubling of NIH's budget in 5 years. But one lobbyist says “it's very encouraging” given the circumstances.

    The next move is up to the Senate. The White House wants final action by the end of this month—if only because it is expected to release its 2004 budget proposal in early February. It's not clear if Congress can meet that schedule.

  6. Bush Picks Industry Veteran for Homeland R&D Chief

    An engineer with strong ties to the defense industry will be the first science czar of the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). President George W. Bush last week announced his intent to nominate Charles “Chuck” McQueary to be DHS's Undersecretary for Science and Technology. Science groups had lobbied Congress to create the post, which oversees an R&D program that could eventually spend several billion dollars a year (Science, 22 November 2002, p. 1534).

    McQueary, 63, spent more than 30 years as a researcher and administrator at AT&T Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies. Recently retired as president of a General Dynamics subsidiary, he holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Texas, Austin.

    McQueary “won't be wowed by fanciful proposals—he knows how good R&D works,” says a former colleague, who declined to be identified. House Science Committee chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) called McQueary “exactly the kind of individual we hoped would fill this critical position.”