A conference in Cape Town, South Africa this week marks the start of a “grand endeavor” in developing a vaccine to help end HIV, said Dr. Larry Corey, president and director of Fred Hutch during a closing speech.
More than 200 people from at least a dozen countries attended the conference, held for the first time in South Africa to coincide with the opening of the Cape Town HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) Immunology Laboratory.
The South African Medical Research Council co-hosted the conference. The network is partnering with the South African government as it moves forward on its efforts to expand HIV vaccine research in the region.
Fred Hutch built the state-of-the-art lab, largely funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to conduct two large-scale HIV vaccine clinical trials expected to start in 2016. The lab will also provide training to young South African scientists.
“We are at a major crossroads,” said Corey at the closing of the conference Friday. “We are undertaking what I think is a massive grand endeavor, a grand experiment.”
In 2010, the Pox Protein Public-Private Partnership, known as P5, was established to build on an HIV vaccine trial in Thailand that started in 2003 and was the first to show any efficacy since the first HIV vaccine trial in 1987.
Dr. Nina Russell, who manages the Gates Foundation’s investments in HIV vaccine research, said developing an effective HIV vaccine will require not just funding, but ongoing, focused collaboration among P5 partners and others to succeed.
“While these partnerships have taken us very far, as we look forward, it will not be enough,” she said. “We all need to work together to implement these large-scale trials.”
The upcoming South African trials and the larger effort encompassing them are being referred to as “uhambo.” The word means “opportunity” in Shona and “journey” in Xhosa, two languages native to sub-Saharan Africa.
The conference and lab opening, Corey said, signify the start of that journey.