Sensing a heightened public concern about AIDS, scientists are exploring formation of a national organization to solicit millions of dollars in private donations for research aimed at quelling the deadly epidemic.
One doctor involved in formation of the organization said it would be modeled after the American Cancer Society and, like that body, would be engaged in efforts to educate the public about the disease.
As envisioned, the organization would gather money from individuals and corporations and commission a panel of experts to decide which researchers receive the funds.
“There is unified interest in exploring the ways that the medical and scientific community--and the foundations--can address AIDS research on a large scale,” said Dr. Michael Gottlieb, a prominent UCLA researcher who is spearheading the effort. “No final decisions have been made at this time, but there is general agreement on the principles-and-mission statement of a national organization which would foster AIDS research.”
He and others said publicity surrounding the affliction of actor Rock Hudson and the spread of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome to children and heterosexuals have stoked concern among the general public, which once regarded AIDS a danger exclusive to promiscuous homosexual men. They believe that this concern can be tapped in the form of donations for research.
“There is now an interest in the general public in doing something fast,” said Dr. Mathidle Krim, a leading New York researcher who also has been active in the effort to form a national AIDS organization. “And there is also a great amount of fear.”
Krim chairs a New York-based group, the AIDS Medical Foundation, which she said has been able to generate $1 million for research in its first year.
She said money for AIDS research from government sources has lagged behind need, creating a vacuum to be filled by private givers.
“The government has been two years behind with its level of funding,” she said. “They are now spending $120 million a year (the amount proposed by the Reagan Administration for the 1986 budget). This is what we should have spent three years ago.”
Some involved said there were early discussions about whether it would be more effective to solicit funds through local organizations, especially in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where AIDS has taken its largest tolls.
“We came to the conclusion,” Krim said, “that it would be better if there was a national foundation, because science is a national undertaking.”
Dr. Mervyn Silverman, the former San Francisco director of health who now serves as a medical consultant, said, “A national effort makes more sense because you are not competing with each other for scarce resources and you can pool your efforts to come up with the best and the brightest research and come up with some answers.”
Gottlieb said that, although the organization’s exact composition has yet to be agreed upon, ongoing discussions with prominent doctors and researchers throughout the country have been productive and could result in a formal announcement of the new group within a few weeks.
He said the organization, as envisioned, would engage a scientific advisory committee to decide how to distribute grants.