Don Francis

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Donald Pinkston Francis
Born (1942-10-24) October 24, 1942 (age 81)
CitizenshipUnited States
Scientific career
Genentech, Inc.
Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases

Donald Pinkston Francis (born October 24, 1942) is an American epidemiologist who worked on the Ebola outbreak in Africa in the late 1970s, and as an HIV/AIDS researcher. He retired from the U.S. Public Health Service in 1992, after 21 years of service. He lives in San Francisco, California.

Early life[edit]

Francis was born October 24, 1942, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California and grew up in Marin County. His main interest was skiing, and his mother, father and grandfather were physicians. However, he was a poor student as a child, suffering from dyslexia. Francis has said that he gravitated towards science because he had such difficulty with subjects where fluent reading ability was needed.[citation needed]

Francis completed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a member of the California chapter at Delta Upsilon, class of 1966. He received his M.D. from Northwestern University and his Doctor of Science in virology from Harvard.[1] An infectious diseases fellowship at Harvard followed his internship and residency in pediatrics at the University of California Medical Center in Los Angeles. Francis helped eradicate smallpox from Sudan, India and Bangladesh before working on AIDS.[2] He worked on the cholera epidemic in Nigeria in the early 1970s, the smallpox epidemic in Yugoslavia in 1972,[3] and the 1976 Ebola epidemic in Sudan. In addition, Francis was an early developer of the hepatitis B vaccine in the United States and China.[4]

Later work[edit]

Francis began his work on AIDS in 1981. He was one of the first scientists to suggest that AIDS was caused by an infectious agent.[5] As director of the CDC's AIDS Laboratory Activities, he worked closely with the Institut Pasteur[6] which isolated HIV.

At the time of his retirement from the CDC, he was the centers' AIDS Advisor to the State of California and Special Consultant to Mayor Art Agnos in San Francisco.[7] In the latter capacity he served as the Chair of the Mayor's HIV Task Force.

In 1993, Francis joined Genentech, Inc., of South San Francisco to try to develop a vaccine for HIV. In 1995, Francis and fellow retro-virologist Dr. Robert Nowinski spun off Genentech's HIV vaccine unit after the company had disappointing results, and founded VaxGen, based in Brisbane, California, to continue working on vaccines. After the vaccine failed in clinical trials, Francis left VaxGen in 2004 to co-found Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, where he serves as executive director and principal investigator.[8]

And The Band Played On[edit]

In 1993, HBO produced And The Band Played On, an Emmy-winning movie about the AIDS crisis based on the 1987 book of the same name by San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts. Actor Matthew Modine plays Francis, a central figure in the movie. In both the book and the film, his antagonist is Dr. Robert Gallo (portrayed in the film by Alan Alda), the discoverer of HTLV (the human T-cell leukemia virus), who cuts off assistance when he hears that Francis has shared some experimental materials with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier (portrayed in the film by Nathalie Baye and Patrick Bauchau), the French researchers at the Pasteur Institute who were given the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the HIV virus.[9]


  1. ^ Martin, Richard, "Testing the First AIDS Vaccine", Wired Magazine, January 2003.
  2. ^ H. Foege, William, House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox, (2011), p. 139. ISBN 978-0520948891. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  3. ^ Francis, Don "A Voice for the Public Health", The Doctor-Activist: Physicians Fighting for Social Change, (1996). ISBN 978-0306452673. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  4. ^ "Dr. Don Francis Biography". Archived from the original on 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2014-01-23.
  5. ^ Shilts, Randy, And the Band Played On, (2007), p. 73. ISBN 978-0312374631.
  6. ^ In Their Own Words...NIH Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS, Transcript of Interview with Dr. James Curran, p. 6, February 2, 1997, Office of NIH History.
  7. ^ Stein, Mark A., "Panel Sounds Warning on AIDS in S.F.", "L.A. Times", January 11, 1990.
  8. ^ Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases
  9. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008" (PDF). Nobel Web AB. 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2016-04-16.

Further reading[edit]