Monday, February 21, 2005

Feb. 22, 2005

David Corcoran
Science Desk
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Corcoran:

I am writing to you because of concerns I have with yesterday's story in the Times following up on recent events related to the discovery in New York City of rare strain of HIV. (Source: )

These are my concerns, in order of importance to me:


The Times also wrote that, "Dr. Ho said that he has disclosed all of his ties to the company and
that any suggestion of impropriety was false."

Okay, where are these alleged disclosures posted on the web and when did he make them public?

Not on the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center's web site, nor on the Rockefeller University site, the center's main academic affiliation. (Sources: and )

This is the list of board affiliations for Ho, omitting mention of his tie to ViroLogic's advisory board, as published on his research center's site:
"Committee Assignments & Board Memberships:

"1990-present Committee of 100 (Chinese American Leadership Organization)
"1997-present Board of Trustees, California Institute of Technology
"1998-present Board of Directors, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center
"1998-present Board of Overseers, Harvard University
"2003-present Board member, the MIT Corporation"

Can the two Times reporters who wrote today's story tell me and other readers where exactly Ho has disclosed his ties to ViroLogic? As far as I can tell from public records on the web, he hasn't done so, at least not on sites where one would logically think to look, his research center and Rockefeller University sites.

Since Ho claims he has disclosed links to the company, why weren't the ties reported in previous Times articles about Ho and the new strain of HIV in New York?


The story further noted, "[Dr. David Ho's] brother, Sidney Ho, does
marketing work for the company and once was the head of its
communications department."

True. Too bad the Times didn't see fit to include the above sentence in its initial reporting. Also, Sidney Ho, before taking a job at ViroLogic, served as spokesman of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center's media office. The full interconnectedness of both David and Sidney Ho and ViroLogic and the research center has yet to be reported in the Times. (Source: )


The Times stated, "Dr. Ho, who was quoted in the release, serves on the
scientific advisory board of ViroLogic."

But until today, the Times never mentioned Ho sitting on the advisory board and the board connection is conspicuously missing from the release, something not reported by the Times.

Additionally, Ho has collaborated with ViroLogic on at least one scientific study about resistance to AIDS drugs and phenotypic testing, a fact not noted in the release and so far not reported in the Times. (Source: )


The Times said, "William D. Young, the chairman and chief executive of ViroLogic, said
there was no effort by Dr. Ho to promote ViroLogic through this case.
He said the company's scientific advisers 'are very aware of their
scientific reputations and that's paramount to them. At some times I
prefer them to be promotional but they are not.' Mr. Young said
ViroLogic issued the news release to make the public aware of its role
in the testing and its extensive nature."

Partially true. The release did inform the public, but it wasn't a totally altruistic statement. It also served as a potential moneymaking message to investors on Wall Street.

What impact did the release have on ViroLogic's stock the day it was issued?

This is how the Dow Jones NewsWires of Feb. 14 reported the influence of that release on the company's shares:

"Virologic Inc. (VLGC) shares advanced 11.9% to $2.73 after the company said its test was able to characterize and identify potential treatments for virulent multi-drug resistant strain of HIV." (Source: )

I am curious to know why the affect of the release on the company's stock was not included in today's Times article.


The Times reported: "Critics have also charged that ViroLogic, the lab that did some of the
testing for the Diamond Center and the Health Department in the most
recent case, is using the case to promote its services."

Counting myself among those critics, I'd say there is evidence to back up our claims that ViroLogic sees the story as a way to boost sales and promote wider use of its assays, evidence I believe the Times should have reported.

Take a look at this passage from the Feb. 17 Forbes article about the company and its role in the rare HIV strain in New York:

"'A lot of physicians don't get newly infected HIV patients tested,' says William Young, CEO of ViroLogic. He's hoping that the news about the New York City patient's mutant strain of HIV will encourage more physicians to order its test for such patients. 'Personalized medicine is a reality in HIV,' adds Young. The test isn't cheap: It can run up to $1,250. But most insurance companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, do reimburse for the screening." (Source: )

Reading the Forbes article, I think ViroLogic critics are justified in our charges against the company, which the Times have reported.


The Times also reported that, "The Monday after Dr. Frieden's Friday news conference, ViroLogic issued a news release calling attention to its work performing the test for drug resistance."

It's a fascinating release actually, in my opinion, starting with the headline:

"Recent Identification of a New York City Patient Infected With Multi-Drug
"Resistant HIV Who Rapidly Progressed to AIDS Prompts Health Officials to
"Encourage Resistance Testing in Newly Infected Individuals." (Source: )

To me, the term health officials means _public_ health officials, not researchers, but not a single public health official is quoted in the release.

The first quote, from Dr. David Ho, contains no mention about encouraging resistance testing. Ho, by the way, has the longest quotes in the release, giving an impression of being a health official, unaffiliated with the company.

The closest we get to a health official encouraging testing for AIDS drug-resistance is the following passage:

"'This case reinforces the importance of resistance testing in the
management of HIV patients, including those individuals who have not received
prior antiretroviral treatment,' said Michael Bates, M.D., Vice President of
Clinical Research at ViroLogic."

You'll notice this "health official" just happens to work for the company marketing the test. A more honest headline for the new release would have said health officials who also have connections to ViroLogic.

The Times could have found room in the story yesterday pointing the somewhat misleading release.

A prompt rely is requested and appreciated.

Michael Petrelis
San Francisco, CA

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