Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Appoints Interim Director

Gerald Voss, former head of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vaccine’s HIV Vaccine program and vice president of the Enterprise’s Board of Directors, is now interim director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Secretariat, replacing longtime AIDS vaccine advocate William Snow, who has stepped down.

Voss will oversee the Secretariat while the organization charts its future direction. After conducting a strategic review, the Enterprise will look for a new permanent director. Meanwhile, Snow will remain a senior advisor to the Secretariat and the Board of Directors.

Snow said he decided to take a step back because he felt someone else was needed to take the Enterprise to a new level. “I want to stay involved, just not at so intense a level. And I’m thrilled to say that Gerald has plenty of experience to take the reins,” says Snow. “His base of experience is much broader than mine and his connections are long-standing.”

Voss has spent much of his career working on AIDS vaccines, primarily at GSK where he spent two decades. But his work also involved malaria and tuberculosis research and he is currently scientific advisor of the non-profit TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI) based in Holland. The Enterprise is headquartered in New York City, where Voss will spend time as needed.

As interim director, Voss says he will be seeking ways for the Enterprise to further the work that Snow and his team began. “This is really an opportunity to build on what Bill and the Enterprise have achieved and also to further evolve the Enterprise’s direction in ways that are useful for the HIV vaccine research field.” This includes capitalizing on recent developments. “There has been a lot of scientific progress and so we want to make sure that the Enterprise evolves to meet these new and exciting developments in research,” says Voss. But precisely which new projects the Enterprise might take on remains to be seen, he says. “We are only at the start of this process and it will obviously involve consultation with many stakeholders in the field.”

Despite its name, the Enterprise has been viewed by some scientists as too US-centric. The choice of Voss, a Belgian national, seems to address some of those concerns, and is a reflection of other attempts to broaden the makeup of the Enterprise. “The organization’s name contains the word global and I think the Enterprise has been evolving in that direction in term of the Board composition, overall scope of activities, and in terms of the connections with researchers in Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world,” says Voss.

A stabilizing force

The Enterprise was conceived in 2003 by an alliance of organizations that wanted to speed up the search for an HIV vaccine through mutual coordination, collaboration, and the sharing of knowledge. Snow, who joined the Enterprise Secretariat as its director in 2012 during a particularly rocky period in the organization’s history (see The Enterprise Changes Course, IAVI Report, Sep.-Oct. 2011), is credited with helping it to stay focused and remain relevant. Under Snow’s tutelage, the Enterprise developed a number of signature programs designed to increase dialogue and collaborations among the major players in the HIV vaccine field.

A relentless champion since the earliest days of the epidemic, Snow plans to use 2017 to figure out what to do next. “AIDS vaccines used to be my vocation, then it became my career, so I’d like to stay informed and assist as I can, but on a limited scale,” says Snow. “What I want to concentrate on first is reclaiming a personal life: enjoy more things, add some variety, be outside, and have time to read books and really think about what comes next instead of doing so much reacting.”

Snow says he had hoped for faster, smoother progress toward an AIDS vaccine. “That said, people underestimate how much progress has occurred since I took this job,” he says. “That hasn’t been well communicated or understood. As we well know, it’s difficult to get an old message across in new ways to a populace bombarded with so many important issues and even more unimportant ones. The world is fighting for every minute of our attention. I think there needs to be more coordination, expertise, and intelligence to put vaccines back on the map.”

With so much of the research funding coming from governments, the political climate is a concern as well, says Snow. “We are fortunate to have farsighted leaders at the US National Institutes of Health, US Agency for International Development, US Military HIV Research Program, and the European Commission, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that are committed to the essential need for significantly better prevention methods. But with the election of Donald Trump [as US President], I think we’d all agree we have no idea what to expect, or what we’ll need to fight to keep.” — Mary Rushton

Mary Rushton is a freelance writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.