Science  08 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5732, pp. 229

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  1. NIH Fires Critic of AIDS Trials

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    A federal researcher who raised concerns about a clinical trial and misconduct at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been sacked.

    Jonathan Fishbein, a safety official at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), claimed in last year that recordkeeping problems with a Uganda-based trial of the AIDS drug nevirapine were covered up. (An Institute of Medicine report later found that the trial was scientifically valid.)

    Fishbein has also alleged sexual harassment at NIAID (Science, 29 April, p. 613). Fishbein, who was suspended in February 2004 for poor performance, was terminated on 1 July—12 days before the end of his 2-year probationary period.

    Senate Finance Committee leaders Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT) protested Fishbein's firing in a letter to NIH Director Elias Zernouni and suggested that it “may be an act of retaliation.” Two other lawmakers have sent similar letters. Aspects of the case are under investigation by Congress and several federal agencies, including NIH.

  2. Stem Cells Face Vote in Senate

    1. Constance Holden

    Following the House's lead, the Senate is poised to pass a bill to loosen up President George W. Bush's stem cell policy. Last week, stem cell supporters Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) said in a press conference that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) had promised them a vote this month. “We're hoping for an up-or-down vote” on the same measure the House passed (H.R. 810) (Science, 3 June, p. 1388), said Harkin. At the same time, the Senate will likely vote to increase support for stem cell research with umbilical cords and bone marrow.

    Harkin predicts that the bill will pass the Senate with enough votes to withstand the veto Bush promises. Meanwhile, Frist and others are seeking to give NIH more money to study alternative ways to generate embryonic-like stem cells without destroying embryos (see p. 240).

  3. Petition Presses E.U.

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    More than 12,000 scientists have signed a petition calling for increased research funding. This spring, the European Commission proposed doubling the European Union's research budget—to $84 billion over 7 years—but disagreements over the entire E.U. budget have threatened to scuttle those plans (Science, 24 June, p. 1848).

    Science is the first to go when budgets are tight, says Frank Gannon, president of the European Molecular Biology Organization, which helped draft the petition, which asks E.U. leaders for a “significant increase.”

  4. Bunker Buster Fight Looms

    1. Eli Kintisch

    The Senate and the House are at odds over a White House plan to study a new nuclear weapon for underground targets. Last week, the Senate approved $4 million for a feasibility study of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) as part of a $31.2 billion spending bill for energy and water projects. “What is the harm in getting the study?” asked John Warner (R-VA) during floor debate.

    In May, the House voted to strike RNEP funding for the project and put the program in the Pentagon, which does not do nuclear research. “It's our hope … what happened last year will happen this year, and they'll go with the House version,” said Joe Volk, executive secretary for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in Washington, D.C., that opposes nuclear weapons.

  5. European BRCA2 Patent Lives On

    1. Eliot Marshall

    The European Patent Office has let stand a patent filed by the biotech firm Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the breast cancer gene BRCA2. Opponents of the patent—including a group of gene-testing clinics—had argued that Myriad's discovery was not innovative and that it discriminated against an ethnic group. Specifically, the European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) in Vienna, Austria, objected to a legal claim that applies only to “Ashkenazi Jewish women” (Science, 24 June, p. 1851).

    According to ESHG member Gert Matthijs of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, European doctors will have to ask a woman if she is Ashkenazi before offering to test for BRCA2—and change procedures if she says she is. Myriad's opponents may appeal the latest ruling, issued on 29 June.