This is the story of a French doctor and his start-ups which have been trying to develop a cure for HIV for the last 10 years. The problem resides in exaggerating, not publishing data…and then repeating this process again and again.
Last week, the professor Erwann Loret and his start-up Biosantech did a press conference to announce new “breakthrough” results have been accepted in the review journal Retrovirology. However, the problem here is that those ‘Breakthrough results’ are still not actually published.
And whilst it’s pretty common to see Biotech companies exaggerate their findings a bit, it seems completely excessive here.
The French industry magazine Usine Nouvelle did some digging into the story and found some ‘suspicious’ facts (and actually, this piece is one of the most aggressive I’ve ever read inside the magazine). A scientist from the HIV field told the magazine:
Oh yes, this is the startup which claims having the vaccine against AIDS every two months, but never publishes anything”
The director of the French agency of Recherche against AIDS (ANRS), Jean-François Delfraissy, is also worried that patients are given false hope: “I received a copy of the publication from the company. We’ve analysed it carefully and there isn’t any solid data.“
The development of a drug/vaccine is a complicated path that is not always well understood by the general public. Lots of people thought the vaccine was already on the market… “We received tons of calls from seropositive asking us if they could stop their therapies and if they could have access to this new treatment“.
Such publications also affect the reputation of the field of anti-HIV research. The editor of the review said: “Every scientist know that these results are not true and that they are far away from having discovered anything.”
The other suspicious side to the story is about the journal it has been published in (Retrovirology) which is a fairly average publication. An editor of the review and director or research at the CNRS, Monsef Benkirane, commented:
If someone really discovers the vaccine against HIV, it would be published in Science or Nature“
Biosantech justifies this early communication because another newspaper, La Provence, had published the results before any authorisation. Biosantech then “had to communicate” to clarify the situation.
But this is not the first time the company published false promises. For Benkirane, there are two explanations: ‘an attempt to raise money’ or the personality of Erwann Loret, who is always looking for a bit of recognition…
What is sure is that the first vaccine against HIV has not been discovered yet and that the unmet medical need is still very high. Biosantech may have an interesting molecule but it would have to prove it first with relevant and published data.