CDC Move Raises Impropriety Issue
The Associated Press
Thursday, Feb. 17, 2000; 9:25 a.m. EST
CHICAGO The former head of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's HIV vaccine unit approved an $8 million grant for research on a
vaccine whose manufacturer hired him months later, the Chicago Tribune reported
today. He denied any wrongdoing.
CDC and VaxGen Inc. officials confirmed Wednesday that Dr. William Heyward
played a key role in earmarking $8 million for AIDSVAX trials in October, the
Tribune reported. He became VaxGen's vice president for international clinical
studies in January.
AIDSVAX, the only HIV vaccine undergoing advanced testing, is designed to
control HIV infection by generating a type of protein that may be able to
prevent the virus from attaching to immune cells.
VaxGen and CDC officials said Heyward had cleared his role in the grant
allocation with CDC attorneys.
In an interview with The Associated Press today, Heyward insisted there was no
conflict of interest.
Heyward said the CDC funded only six of the 60 research clinics where tests on
the vaccine are being conducted.
In addition, he said, other CDC officials also approved the agency's
participation, and his own decisions on the trials had nothing to do with his
impending departure to work for VaxGen, a vaccine maker based in Brisbane,
"I made no decisions myself that dictated where something would be done or
not," he said by telephone from his home in Georgia. "My advice was that CDC
should be involved in this trial. But I don't care what vaccine it was, I would
have said the same thing."
Don Francis, VaxGen's president, said he and Heyward had discussed the
possibility of Heyward's employment with VaxGen for about two years, but he
said they halted negotiations before the October decision to avoid a conflict
The Tribune quoted a CDC spokesman as saying the Atlanta-based health agency's
general counsel office is reviewing whether post-employment restrictions
policies would apply to the VaxGen matter.
Heyward said those restrictions bar him from representing VaxGen on government
activities in which he was involved while with the CDC. "I am abiding by that,"
he said. "I'm playing this strictly by the rules. There've been no breaches."
Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee on
biomedical research, said Heyward's role in the AIDSVAX trial grant raises
questions of a conflict of interests.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press