Glenda Gray appointed new president of South African Medical Research Council - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Fred Hutch HIV expert is first woman to lead nation’s premier medical-research organization
Glenda Gray
Dr. Glenda Gray, co-principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which is headquartered at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been named president of the South African Medical Research Council. Photo credit: Fred Hutch file

SEATTLE – March 20, 2014 – HIV expert Dr. Glenda Gray, co-principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), which is headquartered at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been named president of the South African Medical Research Council, the premier medical research organization and funder of medical research in South Africa. The appointment is effective April 1.

Gray, who is based in Johannesburg, directs the Africa Programs for HVTN, the largest worldwide clinical trials network dedicated to the development and testing of HIV/AIDS vaccines. She is also a member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutch.

She is both a pediatrician and a world-renowned scientist in the field of HIV prevention, especially HIV vaccines and prevention of mother-to-child transmission. She currently directs the Medical Research Council Office of AIDS Research and is also a research professor of pediatrics at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she is also executive director of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit of the Wits Health Consortium.

“Professor Gray is ideally suited to lead the MRC during this important period of new growth for the organization,” said MRC board chairman Dr. Mike Sathekge, head of the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the University of Pretoria. “She is an outstanding South African scientist who will be the first woman to lead the MRC.”

Gray said her vision for her new role is to ensure that the MRC retains its international stature and continues to lead innovation in health research that directly impacts human health.

“I will not only endeavor to find solutions for TB and HIV, but also ensure that we address critical research in maternal and child health that translates into lives saved,” she said. Gray said she also aims to address the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases, alcohol-related health issues and the epidemic of violence against women and children.

“Glenda is recognized worldwide as a leader in HIV prevention research and I am sure she will bring the same passion to leading the MRC that she shows in the search for a safe and effective HIV vaccine,” said Dr. Larry Corey, president and director of Fred Hutch and co-principal investigator of the HVTN. “Luckily for us, Glenda will continue her role as co-principal investigator of HVTN as well as protocol chair of HVTN 702.”

HVTN 702, also called the correlates program, will test several newer vaccine regimens and adjuvants. The study will take place at multiple sites in southern Africa and is designed to learn more about how the immune system may develop ways to protect against or defeat HIV if exposed.

“Glenda’s new appointment as president of the Medical Research Council is a tribute to the major contributions she has made in improving the lives of South Africans through clinical research,” said Dr. Julie McElrath, senior vice president and director of the Fred Hutch Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division. “She will undoubtedly have a great influence in advancing HIV vaccine development and will bring new energy in tackling other devastating diseases.  We are fortunate to have Glenda as a steadfast partner in Fred Hutch’s global infectious diseases efforts.”

Gray trained as a pediatrician at the University of the Witwatersrand and completed her Fogarty Postdoctoral Fellowship in Clinical Epidemiology at Cornell University in New York.

She has received numerous awards, including:

  • the prestigious Order of Mapungubwe, the highest honor South Africa bestows upon its citizens;
  • the Nelson Mandela Health and Human Rights Award;
  • the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership Outstanding African Scientist Award;
  • the Hero of Medicine Award from the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care; and
  • an honorary doctor of science degree from Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Gray has published more than 200 scientific journal articles and is a National Research Foundation A-rated scientist, a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and a member of the National Health Research Committee. She is also a foreign associate of the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. Academies of Science and a member of the IOM Board of Global Health.

Dr. Jim Kublin, executive director of the HVTN and a member of the Fred Hutch Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, added, “Glenda Gray is the very best of what we call a physician/scientist.  She cares first and foremost about the health and well-being of the men, women, and children she works with while at the same time is always looking for new ways to improve their lives through biomedical research. We look forward to the day that we can stop new HIV infections once and for all. Dr. Gray will play a key role in the work to find an effective vaccine.”

Editor’s note: A photo of Gray is available upon request.

Kristen Woodward