The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008
Harald zur Hausen, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Luc Montagnier
"We are still fighting this virus, very strongly, and the AIDS epidemic"
Telephone interview with Luc Montagnier immediately following the announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 6 October 2008. The interview was recorded while Luc Montagnier was attending a conference in the Ivory Coast, and the interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org.
[Adam Smith] Hello, is it possible to speak to Professor Montagnier yet?
[Unknown] Yes, I'm going to bring him to you, okay?
[AS] Thank you very much indeed.
[Unknown] If you can hold on.
[AS] Yes, of course.
[Unknown] Thank you.
[AS] Thank you.
[Unknown] Professor … Professor … Professor. Sorry, there's so many people around him right now.
[AS] I can imagine.
[Unknown] Can you hear me?
[AS] I can hear you very well, yes, thank you.
[Luc Montagnier] Hallo.
[AS] Hello, Professor Montagnier, can you hear me?
[LM] Yes, speaking.
[AS] My name is Adam Smith. I'm calling from the Nobel Foundation web site. Congratulations on the award of the prize.
[LM] Thank you. Thank you very much.
[AS] And I understand you are in the Ivory Coast at the moment?
[LM] Yes, I'm in a meeting of the … Hello?
[AS] Hello, yes?
[LM] I'm in a meeting on AIDS, which will be chaired by the President of the Republic of Ivory Coast, and he's going to arrive at any time now – we are waiting for him.
[AS] Okay, I won't take very long. Your discovery for which you have been awarded the Nobel Prize was made in 1983, and this is 25 years later.
[AS] What do you think is the main message that you would like to send out after this award?
[LM] Well, the main message I will convey that even after 20 years we are still fighting this virus, very strongly, and the AIDS epidemic – I am now in an African country – is still spreading in Africa in [inaudible], so the fight is not finished. And I appreciate that the Nobel Committee has put on the air this important disease which is not finished, and my message is that we should continue the research. And myself I'm working on a vaccine – not a preventive vaccine but on a therapeutic vaccine which is aimed at completing the antiretroviral therapy which is now given to many patients even in Africa, but which does not cure. So the idea is to eradicate the virus infection. I think this is the main step now.
[AS] Yes, and what is the most urgent research need, do you think, in AIDS nowadays?
[LM] Well, the important research should be done on completing the treatments which are given to patients, for life. And I know that in Africa it's not possible to give a treatment for life. Because we give up before. So the idea is to buy a treatment which, like for tuberculosis, could be given for a short period of time – 6 to 9 months – and then stopped. And then vaccinate the people by a combination of viral protein, which I'm working on, so that the immune system of the host, of the person which is infected, will defend himself. Nature has shown us a few percent of people which are in this stage. They are infected, they are not sick. So the idea is to make most of these people, infected people, never sick, for life. So I think this would be very important, but I've tried to quantify all the forms of the virus. So I'm also working on that. There are probably some very small forms of the virus which escape [inaudible] and the immune system. So we have to identify those foremost. I think the AIDS epidemic is caused by a very old virus. And probably the virus was in Africa for a long period of time, as shown in some recent papers.
[LM] But, what is new in Africa, like in the North America, is the epidemic. The AIDS epidemic started about the same time in Africa, in big cities, in Africa and North America. And we have to explain why. I think there are factors; I've been promoting a virical cofactor for a long time. But I'm beginning now to think those cofactors may act indirectly by inducing mutations – oxidative stress, free radicals which can induce mutations in the virus. What they have shown the virus is the enormous potential to change all the time. This is new, quite new, and was the cause of the epidemic. So we have to put back the virus in this Pandora's box, you know. And for that we have to not only find physically treatments but also improve the hygiene conditions, especially in Africa, and these conditions are so very important so that the immune system will be very active.
[AS] Yes. So my last question. If you remember the day on which you first saw reverse transcriptase activity in the cultured cells from patients. Did you have any idea on that day in 1983 of the size of epidemic that you might be looking at?
[LM] Well not in the beginning of course, no. I was actually working on a possible viral cause of breast cancer. I'm still interested in cancer virus so I appreciate that the Nobel Committee also has awarded the Prize to Harald zur Hausen who has worked for a long time on this. But, when I realised that the virus could be the cause of AIDS and was present not only in gay men in France and the United States, and haemophiliacs, but also in African nations – so this was in September 1983 – I realised it could be big, okay?
[AS] Yes, yes.
[AS] Okay, thank you.
[LM] Thank you.
[AS] It's been a pleasure to speak to you.
[LM] Good bye.
[AS] Good luck. Good bye.
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