Kenneth Alibek, the former Soviet biowarfare expert who defected to the United States in 1992, has truly embraced his adopted country--including its capitalist ways. Last month, Alibek, chief scientist of Advanced Biosystems Inc. and director of the Center for Biodefense at George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia, lent his name to a nutritional supplement called "Dr. Ken Alibek's Immune System Support Formula."
"Your Body Is Under Constant Attack!" cry the full-page ads for the product, which have appeared in such newsstand mainstays as U.S. News & World Report. The concoction of vitamins, minerals, and a proprietary bacterial mix--a month's supply costs $59.95 plus tax and shipping--will help ward off those attacks, the former communist tells ScienceNOW. Alibek says the pills have nothing to do with his research on how the body can defend against bioterrorist agents--he just acted as a consultant to Vital Basics, the Portland, Maine-based company that produces the pills.
Some colleagues say they first thought the ad was a spoof and wonder how Alibek's commercial adventure will affect his scientific credibility. "What's the experimental basis?" asks virologist Peter Jahrling of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. "This is snake oil." But Christopher Hill, GMU vice provost for research, says there's nothing improper about Alibek's sideline so long as he doesn't make false claims or suggest that GMU supports his pills.