Saturday, March 26, 2011
Dr. Mikovits in the Big Apple
Regarding the Whittemore Peterson Institute, the news from NYC is strong and clear. The WPI is moving on to treatment, and treatment trials, and drug investigation for ME/CFS. Treatments will revolve around inhibiting pathogens (XMRV and other retroviruses in this family), regulating or strengthening the immune system, and dealing with co-infections. They have various tools at hand to begin this - with more to come. Through their research program they will continue to build data around this disease - as well as research better diagnostics and markers.
None of this is a big surprise.
The Whittemore Peterson Institute are putting the struggles over "contamination" issues behind them and moving on. Frank Ruscetti said in December that it is time to move on. It has been a long series of delays, and the WPI is now insistent on getting to the next level.
A few days ago the Whittemore Peterson Institute issued a press release announcing a change in positions at the top of the organization. "Dr. Mikovits, current Research Director of the Whittemore Peterson Institute, has been named the new Director of Translational Research. In this capacity she will focus on assisting its strategic partners and collaborative translation of the most current research. She will engage in activities which support and promote the development of more effective treatment for all patients with neuro-immune disease." Dr. Vincent Lombardi, the lead author on the Science paper, will be the new Research Director. Dr. Mikovits and Dr. Lombardi have worked together in the research lab for many years now. The mild-mannered Lombardi is fully capable of running the research lab.
Those who are skeptical of this institute and its research might view this change in positions as a rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I do not see it that way. I see it in quite the opposite light. This is an aggressive move to escape the "current trap".
Dr. Mikovits has long had a desire to get into the "translational" aspect of this illness - searching for and testing treatments - based on existing and emerging knowledge. This new position will afford her a better platform from which to do this, one from which she will hopefully take less "flak". It also puts to direct use Dr. Mikovits' extensive past work in drug development. Dr. Mikovits directed the Lab of Antiviral Drug Mechanisms at the NCI, and then served as Chief Scientific Officer and VP of Drug Discovery at Epigenx Biosciences.
On Tuesday March 29, 2011 Dr. Mikovits spoke at the NYAS's "Pathogens in the Blood Supply" conference. Her lecture can be seen online here. It includes a number of new items and covers a lot of ground. The main points of this lecture and discussion are found on various blogs and messages boards - or by watching the video.
In delivering this lecture, Dr. Mikovits seemed more agitated than I have seen her before. She rattled along at her fast typewriter rate. Recently her time slot was shortened in order to add more speakers (Why??). Dr. Mikovits has a great deal that she needed to present, so it seems that she just compressed it into the shorter time period. The talk had this sense of urgency to it. It also might be that she was anxious because of the setting, the hornet's nest of the east coast establishment, with the "Great virus hunter" Dr. Lipkin sitting in the first row. Having seen Dr. Mikovits in other extremely stressful situations, I tend not to give this interpretation any credence. I have never seen her get rattled. Instead I think that Dr. Mikovits was angry - and exasperated that she should have to be giving this talk at all - having to present this data again, and to what can only be seen as a skeptical and detached audience. After all, Dr. Mikovits has many more receptive places to present her work, and increasing numbers of interested scientists, and her invitations to present are growing.
Dr. Ian Lipkin also gave a talk. Dr. Lipkin's talk was quite interesting in general, but had various curious aspects to it - not the least was his statement that he is an "Agnostic" in regards to his position on the NIH trial that he is overseeing. Not being a post-modern relativist, I do not understand Dr. Lipkin's detachment. There are many more humane ways in which he could frame his neutrality, but he seems to be unaware of the moral issue here. Meanwhile a host of patients continue to suffer. I wonder if Dr. Lipkin has a clue about this disease? He seems a clever enough guy, but where is he going to take this, with his "Agnosticisms"?
The struggle over XMRV is a struggle over a larger issue. XMRV is a screen. The larger issue revolves around the WPI's attempt to compile data on this illness, to find an etiology, and to search for treatments - elements that have always been "disallowed" in this illness. These facts are so painfully obvious as to not even need to be stated.
The WPI has recognized this "strategic problem" or "lack of coherence" from their inception. They have noted that there has been no attempt to establish the history of this disease, no significant data accumulation that can be used for research or treatment, no real attempts at etiology, and no sustained research that strikes at the center of the illness. Any observer who pays attention knows that these four items, and more, have been at the heart of the difficulties surrounding ME/CFS. In 2005, the WPI set out to change this, and with the publication of the XMRV paper in October 2009, they encountered very stiff resistance.
From October 2009, great efforts have been made to slow down the WPI. From early reports that the WPI was going to be "taken out", to ongoing tactics regarding various contamination theories, to cutting off funding, these "paralyzing" tactics have been very successful. The WPI has spent a great deal of time - too much time - since October 2009 defending themselves. This has nothing to do with "science" - this is shit. These tactics have manifested themselves in a wide range of maneuvers, some of them predictable, others not. The objective observer has to admire those who set up these obstacles. They are very clever, devilish and persistent in their designs.
The overall effect is that the WPI is frozen out of grant money, younger people wanting to do research in XMRV are being denied research money, older researchers are flinching under the pressure of being shut out for their interest in XMRV. The grant application process has become allergic to XMRV research. Someone somewhere does not want this to move forward.
Academic research is a money game. If you play the game wrong, or if you play another game, you are on your own and suddenly without any funding. It is all a bit unseemly. At least being an artist, your livelihood is not connected to kissing people's asses. As an independent artist you can do whatever you want, at your own pace, guided by circumstances. It is much more difficult to do this in science (in other words, there are no William Herschels), and most scientists are cowards when it comes to the money thing. To them this is serious business - as it involves their livelihood - and their "self-realizations". I am sorry to have to say this, but it is true - such is modern life.
All of these "contentions", all of these struggles are "advertised" in the press (to the extent that they cover ME/CFS at all). It is important to remember Dr. Conant's admonitions, "Do not trust the press" and "The press is not your friend".
One can flip a coin about what this is all about. First, it is to "take out" the WPI. Second, it is to "take out" the WPI and reinvent their discovery for themselves. Take your pick. I go with the second option.
The message is clear. The WPI and those supporting XMRV can expect no help from the government in the foreseeable future - if ever. The WPI are going to have to move forward on their own with private funding. The government's current "involvement" seems to be to "embrace" the WPI with testing probably hundreds of samples to clarify what the WPI already knows ("The Big Squeeze" that suffocates.). This could tie up this small lab for many months, critical months for starting the investigation into treatment possibilities. This is not an acceptable option. While this work might be seen as "necessary", it should not come at the expense of immediate attempts to treat these very sick patients. In this light, it is impossible to accept Dr. Lipkin's "Agnosticism". It is a dead end for those who want to bring relief to this patient population. This is a "moral issue", and somewhere, somehow the moral structure has broken down.
Out in the real world, the "agnostic", detached world, ME/CFS is not recognized as a disease. A serious history of the illness has never been presented. There is very little or no data that is useful on the illness. There is no serious search for etiology. There is no serious research into the infectious nature of this illness. There is very little research into the immunological dysfunction. The illness is presented as confusing, complex, and mysterious. (What infectious illness was not confusing, complex and mysterious prior to being understood?) In the meantime many patients are seriously sick with this illness (Notice that Dr. Mikovits referred to it as an "acquired immune deficiency".) In 2005, along comes the WPI with a desire to cut through all this crap. Their first big strike, unexpected, occurred in October 2009 and touched an exposed nerve. For the last 18 months we have experienced non-stop negative reverberative vibes (Unfortunately these "negativities" extend to the patients. Why so much hostility and disregard?). None of this is so difficult to figure out. Please connect the dots.
From the WPI's perspective, their original hypothesis still stands, and no one has made a dent in it. They are making new and additional friends. They have the courage and the momentum - if not the money. There is an air of inevitability here.
Mikovits: "I am totally confident that XMRV and a family of human gamma retroviruses is playing a role in ME/CFS.....(and) our reorganization reflects confidence and allows me to move forward drug and diagnostic development."
There is a lot more I could write about this, but for the moment I will leave it at this.