A satellite organized by IAVI, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, and the MRC/UVRI Uganda that was held during the HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) 2016 conference and chaired by Pontiano Kaleebu, Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute, and Peter Dukes, Africa Research Excellence Fund.
The premise of the workshop was that despite many efforts toward capacity strengthening for HIV research in Africa, there are still gaps. Many of the efforts were directed towards epidemiological and clinical studies, yet basic science research capacity is still low. New partnership models are beginning to increase the engagement of Africans across Africa in basic HIV prevention research. This brings novel opportunities for North-South and South-South collaborations for discovery and innovation, and promotes multidisciplinary approaches. The workshop aimed to share success stories, identify gaps and challenges, and propose opportunities for enhanced collaborations with a focus on discovery and innovation, as well as young scientists.
Pontiano Kaleebu, also presented the newly formed AAVVi.net. emphasizing the believe that AAVVi.net can fill a gap by providing a united African voice responsive of needs and priorities for HIV vaccine research and development in the different regions in Africa. A network that will bring together seasoned and emerging scientists and other stakeholders. Pontiano finished his presentation by encouraging people to join the efforts, see full presentation here.
The Chairs opened the session by asking how can excellence, relevance, and impact of African science be increased? Four partnership models were presented, each followed by presentations of two young scientists from that network. Visit http://webcasts.vaccineenterprise.org/b/2016hivr4p/other/hivr4p to see the full webcast.
VISTA (Vaccine Immunology Science and Technology for Africa) by Jill Gilmour
VISTA is a consortium of investigators in East and Southern Africa, India, Europe, and the United States to increase the scientific contributions of African researchers to HIV vaccine design and develop immunogens that elicit broad, potent anti-viral T cells.
The aim is to establish centers of excellence in Africa and India. Technology transfer is being done from European and United States partners to perform primary functional assays in Africa, hence, the core of this program is capacity-building. A snapshot of capabilities developed in 2016 can be seen in the Figure 1. Jill emphasized the need to leverage capabilities of African scientists by showing that only 1% of papers in PubMed have African authors, which does not reflect the true potential of the continent.
SA MRC (South African Medical Research Council) by Glenda Gray
Glenda Gray presented the capacity development program of the South African Medical Research Council. The SA MRC is the biggest funder of medical research in Africa by an African country, and steward of medical research in South Africa. The SA MRC has four strategic goals, including to replenish the aging pool of mostly white scientists with researchers that more closely match the demographic and geographic areas of the country.
The SA MRC was successful in increasing race diversity in awarded grants in past three years by providing underrepresented researchers with grant writing workshops and other grant writing support. They are also focusing on under-resourced organizations, support for mid-career scientists, funding of post-doctoral programs for doctors and other health professionals, and early-career investigators. Dr. Gray also presented the SA MRC’s current HIV vaccine portfolio as which spans from discovery to development.
EDCTP (The European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership) by Thomas Nyirenda
The mission of the EDCTP is to support collaborative research that accelerates the clinical development of new or improved interventions to prevent or treat HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and neglected infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. They provide funding for phase 1 to phase 4 trials, excluding basic science. Dr. Nyirenda also presented the EDCTP Networks of Excellence to improve clinical trial capacity, emphasizing EDCTP’s strong focus on capacity building, having trained 516 scientists from 2003-2015.
AREF (Africa Research Excellence Fund) by Peter Dukes
AREF offers competitive awards for Sub-Saharan Africans to enhance their research skills and aims to deliver the highest quality training to Africans in Africa. Dr. Dukes presented some of the challenges faced by researchers in Africa and discussed how AREF can help address some of them.
AREF aims to achieve well balanced partnerships that ensure that Africans are not only involved in generating samples and data, but are also involved in analyzing and interpreting the results and which will result in more control on reward and recognition for that work. AREF focuses on post doc challenges, providing small grants and career development tools.
During the panel discussion that followed, Thumbi Ndung’u, University of KwaZulu Natal, emphasized that the needs of young investigators in Africa are the same as around the world. Issues such as how to identify young talented scientists, how to mentor and support their development, and how to create a suitable environment to excel. An area of improvement is availability of sustainable funding mechanisms that are long-lasting and support a researcher during all phases of their careers. Deenan Pillay, Africa Health Research Institute, stressed that countries themselves each have a responsibility to build infrastructure to keep their researchers. To grow a cadre of bright scientists that then have to go to Europe or North America to fulfill their aspirations is a failure for the continent.
Other important questions raised during the discussion include:
- How can we accelerate the flow through into leadership of African talents at all levels?
- How can governments in Africa be encouraged to invest more in health and in health research?
- How can we increase networking opportunities for those working on basic science and vaccine development in Africa?
- How can South-to-South collaborations be encouraged?