The founding members of the Marseille University Hospital Institute for Infectious Diseases (IHU Marseille Infection) had, in the midst of a conflict with Professor Didier Raoult, in the summer of 2021, drawn up the robot portrait of the scientist they hoped to see succeed to the controversial microbiologist from Marseille. “A researcher, legitimate, charismatic and recognized by his peers in the field of infectious diseases”, explained Eric Berton, president of Aix-Marseille University (AMU).

Like the director of Marseille University Hospitals (AP-HM), François Crémieux, Mr. Berton mentioned the need to launch an international call for tenders to attract applications from outside the IHU seraglio. And the importance of entrusting the organization to an independent personality to avoid local power games. In this case, the former chairman and CEO of Renault Louis Schweitzer.

After eight months of auditions, the selection jury finally settled on a single name. That of a pure product of the IHU, who has spent most of his career in the shadow of Didier Raoult, Professor Pierre-Edouard Fournier, soon to be 56, microbiologist and current head of the diagnostics platform molecular of the IHU.

Get over the soap opera Raoult as soon as possible

The eighteen members of the IHU’s board of directors – including the six founders who demanded the replacement of Didier Raoult before the end of 2022 – will study his appointment on July 13, for a taking up of office which, according to the candidate, could take place from August 1.

For Louis Schweitzer, Pierre-Edouard Fournier has “the ability, thanks to his knowledge of the IHU, to lead this change of course in the direction that has been deemed necessary and desirable by the experts”. The jury, of which seven out of twelve members are also members of the scientific committee of the foundation shaped by Didier Raoult, shares this opinion.

The announcement of the choice of Pierre-Edouard Fournier, by a simple press release from the IHU, did not elicit any official comment from the authorities directly concerned. No more at the AP-HM, where Mr. Fournier is a practitioner appreciated by the medical community, than at AMU or within the research and development institute, whose director, Valérie Verdier, threatened to break her agreements with the IHU, at the end of 2022, if management methods and parity within senior positions do not change. Each refers to the July 13 board meeting.

For all of these essential partners of the IHU, the attitude of Professor Fournier, who has distanced himself from the choices of his ex-mentor in recent months after having been an ardent defender, and above all the desire to ending as quickly as possible with the soap opera Raoult, an essential step in a return to normality in the governance of the IHU, can explain their assent. If, in May 2021, Mr. Fournier co-signed with Didier Raoult a letter to the journal The Lancet where he believes that, according to figures from the IHU, the vaccine “does not protect against hospitalization or serious forms” of Covid-19, he was, at the beginning of the year, one of the few IHU doctors to sign the call for vaccination launched by the AP-HM.

But several shadows still hang over his probable appointment. A member of the Vitrome laboratory, specializing in tropical and Mediterranean infections, Pierre-Edouard Fournier held the position of secretary of the IHU ethics committee from 2016 to 2020. A structure directly affected by criticism of the latest report from the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) evoking the “serious shortcomings” of the IHU in the field of research involving the person. But which, according to our information, would not be pointed out by the report of the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs currently in its contradictory phase.

The sentencing of Eric Ghigo, 49, to eighteen months in prison, six of which are closed by the Marseille criminal court, Monday, July 4, more seriously disturbs the picture. This scientist, recognized for his discoveries on the planar worm, was found guilty of sexual assault and moral and sexual harassment of female colleagues within the IHU. His lawyer has said he will appeal the court decision.

During the trial, in early May, Mr. Ghigo called as defense witnesses several members of the IHU, including Pierre-Edouard Fournier who claims “never to have witnessed any wrongdoing” of the defendant.

A climate of “staff mistreatment” at the IHU

The links between Pierre-Edouard Fournier and Eric Ghigo are numerous. The professor and his colleague have co-signed numerous studies, including since the removal of Eric Ghigo from the CNRS in 2017, following the facts denounced. The two men were partners in one of the many start-ups launched by the IHU, Techno-Jouvence, which also has Didier Raoult as a shareholder. “I do not consider that continuing to work with Mr. Ghigo, as long as he has not been sentenced, constituted an offence,” Mr. Fournier told Le Monde.

A situation that makes the CGT-FERC Sup section of Aix-Marseille University jump, which for many years has denounced a climate of “staff mistreatment” within the IHU. “We very seriously question Mr. Fournier’s ability to change course after the departure of Didier Raoult. He has been there for a long time and has never done anything against the toxic management of the management, “attacks Cédric Bottero, secretary general CGT-FERC Sup of AMU. The union announces in a press release that it will do “everything in its power to prevent this charade of succession”.

The arrest leaves Pierre-Edouard Fournier serene. “I hear the criticism and I can’t respond to it until I’m nominated. But my desire is to profoundly change the IHU”, defends the professor, who now recognizes that “not everything has been successful” in the management of Covid-19 within the IHU.