Movers & Shakers Interview (3rd June 2003) - Dr. Donald Francis, President & Co-Founder, VaxGen Inc.

Published: 3 Jul 2003

As a young CDC doctor working with the World Health Organization during the early 1970s, Dr. Francis played a key role in eradicating smallpox from regions of India, Bangladesh, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia, a population of more than 240 million. In 1970, he battled the cholera epidemic in Nigeria, and in 1976 he fought the Ebola virus in Sudan during what was the first outbreak of that deadly disease.

Dr. Francis’ current efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of AIDS rests on the foundation laid in his earlier work in the successful development of a Hepatitis B vaccine, and his doctoral work on feline leukemia virus. Dr. Francis was assigned by the CDC to conduct clinical trials testing the Hepatitis B vaccine in a volunteer group of gay males, the highest risk group for Hepatitis B. He was one of two principal investigators who conducted Phase III clinical trials for the Hepatitis B vaccine, which resulted in the first licensing of that vaccine in the early 1980's. As the AIDS epidemic surfaced, he was called to Atlanta to head activities of the CDC’s AIDS Laboratory.

Dr. Francis was director of the CDC’s AIDS lab during the scientific quest to find the organism that causes AIDS in the early 1980s. After the Institut Pasteur identified HIV, he worked closely with the French researchers to prove that HIV was indeed the agent that caused AIDS. He was one of the first doctors to sound an early warning that the nation’s blood supply could be at risk from HIV.

Dr. Francis’ efforts to call attention to the threat of AIDS and warn of the inadequacy of the public health response were chronicled in And the Band Played On, journalist Randy Shilts’ seminal account of the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

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