What is your favorite paper?
I don't have any, because they are just transient things. ... There are a lot of steps, I think, in terms of [creating] long-term value.
But if you had to choose?
For me, IL-2 and HTLV-1, because they opened the field of human retrovirology. We published IL-2 in 1976 in
Do you regret the high-profile controversy regarding the discovery of HIV with Luc Montagnier's group at the Pasteur Institute?
It wasn't of my making. So sure I regret it. But ... I never made a claim that I should get all the credit. I never even said I discovered the virus. I said we know the cause of the disease. We've proven it. And we have a blood test that will save lives beginning...
Why did you start up the Institute of Human Virology?
Since 1987 I believed virus centers were needed in the United States. There were none. I believed we should never get caught again with nobody competent to find the cause of a disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could do epidemiology, but they didn't know what a retrovirus was. I thought there should be multiple centers of excellence in virology in America.
What are the benefits to you?
I get paid a lot more. I'm free to consult as I wish. And I can go from the lab to the clinic. ... I want to determine the priority of what goes into the clinic, of what I discover or what my colleagues discover.
Do you see yourself as having pursued one path, taking it where it leads, or as moving from one thing to another?
I try to do what I think is important and doable, in my lifetime or in the next five to 10 years. My interest has always been, fundamentally, the biology of blood cells, normal and abnormal.
What do you do for fun?
I like fun more than the next guy, I think. I like reading historical novels a lot. I like visiting old things. I love going to Rome. I love going to Jerusalem. I love seeing old history – you know, way back. It's feeling like you're touching eternity a little bit.
Do you make much of your Italian heritage?
Yes, I think so. I didn't when I was younger, because I grew up in a real Anglo neighborhood [in Waterbury, Conn.].
My father [wanted to fit in] really desperately, so there was a suppression of things Italian. Later ... I came to Europe and I saw. Then I became very interested in how Italy came to be and why it wasn't a country until recently. [It became a nation about 1870.] I became interested a lot in the history – the Etruscans, Romans, in more modern stuff, the Renaissance, and what contributions there were. [My interests are] not limited to Italy.
Josh P. Roberts