Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise appoints executive director

The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise announced the appointment of Alan Bernstein, founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), as its executive director on October 11 at the Keystone Symposium on Challenges of Global Vaccine Development in Cape Town, South Africa. Bernstein will establish the permanent administrative offices of the Enterprise in New York City with US$20 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the next four years, and an additional $7 million over the next seven years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise is an alliance of independent organizations with a shared scientific plan that focuses on accelerating six areas of AIDS vaccine research: vaccine discovery, laboratory standardization, product development and manufacturing, clinical trials capacity, regulatory issues, and intellectual property. The idea of the Enterprise was first proposed in 2003 by a cadre of leading HIV researchers as a way to promote collaboration in the field. But the "core of the enterprise is science," said José Esparza of the Gates Foundation.

To date, the organizations of the Enterprise have raised $750 million to achieve the objectives of the scientific plan. The new executive director of this effort needs to see that this funding, and the science it supports, is deployed in innovative ways, said Esparza. "We are convinced Alan is the ideal choice," he added. "As the head of the Enterprise, Alan Bernstein will bring his passion and expertise to the challenge of developing an HIV vaccine."

Bernstein most recently presided over the $1 billion budget of CIHR, the Canadian equivalent of the US National Institutes of Health, and was a member of the scientific board of the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, sponsored by the Gates Foundation. Bernstein, whose scientific experience is not within the AIDS vaccine field, views his being an "outsider" as a strength because he can bring fresh perspective.

He emphasized the need to coordinate efforts within the field and get funding agencies, industry, and regulators working together. Bernstein said he recognized that getting the scientific community to work together on an issue of global importance is a hefty task and he compared the efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine to the campaign to tackle global warming. "As a group we've received hundreds of millions of dollars," said Bernstein. "The world is watching us."

He also referred to the recently reported results from the STEP trial as a "wake-up call" for the field. "It's going to be a long journey. We need to learn from the STEP trial and all other trials before and after that. The Enterprise will accelerate the development of a vaccine, [and] make the dream of a vaccine a reality," Bernstein said. "I think it's doable and I'm looking forward to it." —By Kristen Jill Kresge