Anthony Fauci, a pioneer in AIDS research and a leader in developing vaccines to combat bio-terrorism, has been awarded the richest prize in medicine in the United States. The Albany Medical Center award of $500,000 is second only to the Nobel Prize for Medicine in Sweden.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is considered one of the world's leading researchers in diseases of the immune system, including HIV-AIDS. He is being honored, in large part, for his groundbreaking work in helping other scientists understand how the AIDS virus destroys the body's defenses.
Today, there is a new political urgency, especially since the attacks of September 11, to finding vaccines to protect people against microbes most likely to be used in bio-terrorism. They include smallpox, the ebola virus and anthrax. Dr. Fauci has promised President Bush that he will help lead the research in so-called bio-defense.
He expects the effort to be intense and demanding. He says public fears that terrorists can strike almost at any time have put more pressure than usual on researchers to produce results:
"So it's going to be an interesting new approach where you have to do the fundamental, solid science that brought us to where we are now. But you also have to deliver because you don't know when the next bio-terrorism attack is going to be," he said. "So it's an interesting tension that's a good positive tension. But it's a little bit different from the way we normally conduct bio-medical research, where there generally is a little bit more relaxed atmosphere to it."
Dr. Fauci says he understands the urgency and welcomes the challenge. But at the same time, he has no intention of forsaking his commitment to treat and control the spread of HIV-AIDS, a deadly disease that has claimed more than 20 million lives worldwide.
"We have to pursue the HIV agenda. This, internationally, is even more of a catastrophe now than it was a year ago or two years ago," he said. "So the need for developing a safe and effective vaccine is critical. I cannot see myself stopping doing what I am doing until we get a safe and effective vaccine."
Dr. Fauci works through the National Institutes of Health, the NIH, which are publicly funded. He says the good news is that U.S. presidents for the last 20 years or so have been very committed to making sure the NIH has enough money.
This is only the second year for the prestigious Albany Medical Center Prize, which was conceived and is being funded by a New York philanthropist, Morris Silverman. Its aim is to recognize extraordinary achievements in medical science and research that actually translate into improved health care.