French virologist, Luc Montagnier, the man credited as a co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has died aged 89.
Luc Montagnier died on Tuesday, February 8 in the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, northwest of Paris, the town’s mayor told reporters.
Local news site FranceSoir reported he died on Tuesday in Neuilly-sur-Seine “surrounded by his children”.
Montagnier was jointly awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for his work in isolating the virus that causes Aids but was later dismissed by the scientific community for his increasingly unsubstantiated theories, especially on Covid-19.
AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome – first came to public notice in 1981, when US doctors noted an unusual cluster of deaths among young gay men in California and New York.
Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi shared the Nobel in 2008 for their work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in isolating the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Their achievement sped the way to HIV tests and antiretroviral drugs that keep the deadly pathogen in check.
Montagnier had a bitter rivalry with US scientist Robert Gallo in his ground-breaking work in identifying HIV at the virology department he created in Paris in 1972.
Till this day both are co-credited with discovering that HIV causes AIDS, and their rivalry led to a legal and even diplomatic dispute between France and the United States.
Montagnier’s work started in January 1983, when tissue samples arrived at the Pasteur Institute from a patient with a disease that mysteriously wrecked the immune system.
He later recalled the “sense of isolation” as the team battled to make this vital connection.
“The results we had were very good but they were not accepted by the rest of the scientific community for at least another year, until Robert Gallo confirmed our results in the US,” he said.
In 1986 Montagnier shared the Lasker Award – the US equivalent of the Nobel – with Gallo and Myron Essex.
In 2011, to mark 30 years since the appearance of AIDS, Montagnier warned of the spiralling costs of treating the 33 million then stricken with HIV.
“Treatment cuts transmission, that’s clear, but it doesn’t eradicate it, and we can’t treat all the millions of people,” he told AFP.
The scientific community started to push him to the fringes after he repeatedly suggested that autism is caused by infection and set up much-criticised experiments to prove it, claiming antibiotics could cure the condition.
He later shocked many of his colleagues when he talked of the purported ability of water to retain a memory of substances.
And he believed that anyone with a good immune system could fight off HIV with the right diet.