At the Keystone Symposium in Cape Town, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise announced the appointment of its first executive director and the opening of a new secretariat in New York City. Dr. Alan Bernstein, founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, will lead the international alliance of researchers, funders and advocates dedicated to speeding the search for an HIV vaccine.
Dr. Bernstein’s appointment comes after the recent announcements by Merck, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) regarding the discontinuation of immunizations in the STEP HIV vaccine trial.
“The scientific challenges of developing an HIV vaccine are enormous, but the Enterprise’s collaborative vision is a source of tremendous hope,” said Dr. Bernstein. “The challenge now is to build on this momentum and implement a coherent, integrated and global scientific strategy that will hasten development of an effective and safe vaccine. The world expects nothing less of all those engaged in this endeavor.”
The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise is charged by its founders with setting scientific priorities, mobilizing resources, and improving collaboration in the HIV vaccine field. Originally proposed by 24 leading HIV vaccine researchers in 2003, the Enterprise has to date mobilized more than US$750 million in support of its scientific strategic plan. The Enterprise’s plan focuses on six key research areas: vaccine discovery, laboratory standardization, product development and manufacturing, clinical trials capacity, regulatory issues and intellectual property.
The Enterprise today also announced the opening of its first independent secretariat in New York and new funding commitments to support the coordinating role of the secretariat. The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded up to US$7 million over the next seven years, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $20 million over the next four years to support the secretariat’s activities.
“The enormous scientific obstacles in identifying an effective HIV vaccine combined with the urgent need for improved HIV prevention support the need for increased coordination and collaboration globally to accelerate progress,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director of NIAID. “Dr. Bernstein has a proven track record building a world-class scientific organization that brings together researchers, funders, advocates and industry. The Enterprise, under Dr. Bernstein’s leadership, can bring new energy to the HIV vaccine field and help us work together in a coordinated manner to tackle these major obstacles as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Bernstein was previously the founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Over the past seven years, he has built CIHR into one of the world’s leading research agencies, supporting more than 11,000 health researchers with an annual budget of US$1 billion.
“Alan Bernstein’s appointment as executive director brings increased momentum to the Enterprise’s essential efforts to help accelerate the search for an HIV vaccine,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. “This is a wonderful opportunity for those of us working in the field to derive an added level of synergy by working together across all stages of HIV vaccine development.”
“The Enterprise has an important role to play in ensuring that HIV vaccine development efforts match the magnitude of the pandemic. The 2005 Enterprise scientific plan charts a broad path forward – we must explore multiple approaches and aggressively pursue novel scientific leads, working together in new ways,” said Dr. José Esparza, senior advisor on HIV vaccines for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The Gates Foundation is committed to supporting the Enterprise secretariat, and to helping advance priorities in the Enterprise scientific plan through our support of the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery.”
Dr. Bernstein received his Ph.D. in Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto. Following postdoctoral work in London where he first began working on retroviruses, he returned to Canada to join the faculty of the Ontario Cancer Institute. He later served as head of the Division of Molecular and Developmental Biology at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, and then its director of research.
An internationally renowned researcher, he has made extensive contributions to the study of embryonic development, hematopoiesis and cancer. Dr. Bernstein has received a number of national and international awards for his research, and has served on a large number of international scientific bodies, including the scientific board of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative.
“HIV affects more than 40 million people worldwide, and nearly 5 million people are newly infected every year,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE and chair of the Enterprise coordinating committee. “An HIV vaccine, once developed, has the potential to save millions of lives and stop this pandemic. The Enterprise can speed the day when AIDS will no longer threaten us or our children.”