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Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Changes Course

By Regina McEnery

Following an extensive review by its board of directors, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and its New York City-based Secretariat is streamlining its focus.

In a letter distributed Oct. 26, Jose Esparza, the interim president of the Enterprise’s Board of Directors, said the updated Enterprise would continue as an alliance of independent organizations dedicated to accelerating the development of AIDS vaccine candidates and would continue to focus on facilitating “mutual coordination, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and the optimization of resources and efforts in the field.”

But reflecting what Esparza described as a “leaner, more efficient” operation, the Enterprise will largely restrict its attention to three core functions that reflect these priorities. As it has done since 2007, the Enterprise’s Secretariat will continue to organize the annual AIDS Vaccine Conference. The Enterprise will also organize an annual Funders’ Forum to optimize use of current financial resources and hopefully attract new funding to the field. Finally, it will convene meetings on strategic issues where a collective effort is deemed most effective.

“The board is working very hard to rejuvenate the Enterprise with a model that is more agile, focused, streamlined, and relevant to the field,” says Esparza, senior advisor on vaccines for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who has served as interim president of the Enterprise board since late 2010, when Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, resigned the post.

The genesis of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise occurred about a decade ago when a handful of leaders in the field of AIDS vaccine research began considering creating an organization that would bring greater coordination, collaboration, and transparency to the field. But there has always been a lack of consensus on how the Enterprise should be structured, what its role should be, and what kind of leader would best suit the organization’s needs, as well as those of the field (see The Enterprise Changes Course, IAVI Report, Sep.-Oct. 2011). These questions became even more apparent since Alan Bernstein, the first executive director of the Enterprise, resigned in June after three years at the helm.

Though Bernstein’s credentials included a background in research—he specialized in oncology and was founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research—the Enterprise board may not necessarily select another scientist for the top slot, several Enterprise board members contend.

Along with a new executive director, the Enterprise Secretariat will also expand its board, which now has seven members, to comprise representatives of funders of research, advocacy groups, consortiums and institutions, global health organizations, governments and multilateral agencies, and industry partners. The new board will include approximately 15 members, says Mitchell Warren, executive director of the global advocacy organization AVAC and a member of the Enterprise board.

What isn’t likely to change is the Secretariat base of operations. Warren says the Enterprise will remain in New York City, where Bernstein established the Secretariat.

One program not explicitly defined in the Enterprise’s revised list of priorities and activities is its young and early career investigators (YECI) committee. The Enterprise created YECI in 2008 to address issues that posed challenges to the recruitment of young researchers into the HIV vaccine field. Warren says the concerns of young and early career investigators are still important and the board considers the work of YECI to be one of the great strengths of the Enterprise. “No one thinks we are going to step away from that,” he adds.