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Big shot; passion, politics, and the struggle for an AIDS vaccine

Thomas, Patricia

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ISBN 10: 1891620886 / ISBN 13: 9781891620881
Editorial: Public Affairs, New York, 2001
Encuadernación de tapa dura
Librería: Bolerium Books Inc. (San Francisco, CA, Estados Unidos de America)

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xi, 515p., signed by Thomas on the title page, very good first edition in boards and unclipped dj. N° de ref. de la librería 88960

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Detalles bibliográficos

Título: Big shot; passion, politics, and the ...

Editorial: Public Affairs, New York

Año de publicación: 2001

Encuadernación: Hardcover

Condición de la sobrecubierta: Dust Jacket Included

Ejemplar firmado: Signed by Author(s)

Edición: 1st Edition

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A veteran journalist dramatizes the controversial search for an AIDS vaccine-the players, the politics, the money-in a vivid, suspenseful story that reveals how science is done, and not done, in America today. . When the human immunodeficiency virus was identified in 1984, the competition to create an AIDS vaccine was fierce. Now Patricia Thomas brings the contenders to life in a fast-paced, dramatic narrative: Two biologists rescue precious virus cultures from destruction by a military biohazard team. Other researchers drive hundreds of miles during a heat wave to work in a safe containment lab. And a heroic figure from Randy Shilts's And The Band Played On just might win the vaccine marathon. Thomas shows how the scientists' youthful optimism is honed into gritty determination as they struggle with difficult research challenges, public condemnation of AIDS patients, cautious bureaucrats, conservative executives, hostile activists, and a perennial shortage of money. The lives and complex motivations of the characters illustrate the triumphs and frustrations of the quest for a vaccine. Interwoven with these gripping human stories are lucid explanations of how vaccines aim to block the potentially deadly tango of the AIDS virus and the human immune system. Above all, Big Shot shows how the health of future generations rests on the shoulders of individuals who are as strong, and as weak, as the rest of us. Just as A Civil Action ultimately told us more about human nature than environmental law, Big Shot is about a great deal more than AIDS vaccines.


Once upon a time--way back in 1984--Margaret Heckler of the Department of Health and Human Services announced that an AIDS vaccine would be ready to test in two years. While Patricia Thomas's account of the race for the AIDS vaccine begins about the same time, it took 16 years (and over 400 pages) for a vaccine to begin an efficacy trial, and then only because a group of desperate scientists took it into their own hands to raise the funds and go it alone without government support. While the disease itself has greatly resisted scientific study--it breaks all the rules, is not easily fooled, and continues to develop new strains--that's only one impediment in what has turned into a crawl towards the only real solution to the AIDS crisis. "HIV vaccine research has been a kind of low-prestige backwater that never, until recently, claimed more than 10 percent of federal spending on AIDS," Thomas writes. The development of a vaccine has been hampered by social attitudes and bureaucratic misapprehension, corporate lethargy (vaccine development entails higher costs and liability than therapeutic drugs), and the politics and big egos at such places as the National Institute for Health. Thomas closely follows some of the more passionate and heroic players who have forged ahead even while their companies waffle on vaccine research--young and idealistic biotech scientists like Kathy Steimer of Chiron Corporation, who worked at the cutting edge of immunology until her own untimely death, and Phil Berman and Don Francis (portrayed in And the Band Played On), who left the highly competitive company Genentech to launch the lone large-scale test. There are also the pioneers of naked DNA, such as Margaret Liu at Merck, who bet her rising career on the radical technology despite the fact that her vaccine took a back seat to the company's efforts to develop a treatment that would help far fewer people.

Thomas does an admirable job with a huge and complicated subject, using vivid metaphors to explain such topics as recombinant DNA, antigens, and virology, but unfortunately she seems compelled to tell every last detail, which makes for a sometimes tedious read. While it takes a lot of wading to get through this story, and there's certainly no happy ending, it is an eye-opening account of a vital yet obscured subject and, perhaps more importantly, a much-needed shot in the arm. --Lesley Reed

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Bolerium Books specializes in American social movements and related topics. You can contact us for free email lists in our subject areas. We are located in San Francisco's Mission District on the third floor at 2141 Mission St. Our public hours are Noon to 6pm, Monday to Saturday.

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