Has an Italian avian virus affair the potiential for a biothriller?

It has ingredients of a thriller and might be picked up by Hollywood: A incredible story of crime, bribe and corruption is revealed from Italy. Where else, you might think. It involves the avian influenza viruses in different strains, scientists who sold
the viruses to an interested company, vaccines from these strains which were illegally sold to farmers, state officials who did not interrupt the illegal trafficking. 40 people involved so far. It is a biothriller if all the allegations can be substantiated.

Science this week reports an investigation taking place in Italy in the last 10 years. It claims that the Merial company has bought avian virus strains from two virologists,
Ilaria Capua and Stefano Merangon, and developed a vaccine. Against European law this vaccine was sold to Italian farmers. This is forbidden for the following reason: Infected
and vaccinated animals can not be distinguished and would be culled anyhow. Thus, the animals when tested would be killed independently whether they were vaccinated or not since the appear infected. It might be that they will not be tested when they show no sign of the illness. Furthermore the report raises the possibility that the researchers have deliberately spread the virus which endangered not only the animals, but some farmers got ill.

The person in the center of the investigation, Capua,  is now a member of Parliament and enjoys immunity. One person, Romano Mirabelli, former general secretary of the Ministry of Health stepped down from his post. All the others refute the allegations, on the contrary, they sue an Italian journal, L’Espresso, which has leaked the story. Meraial declines any
illegal action.

Do you believe this? Science has to report more.

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