Canada punches above its weight in HIV vaccine research

Global collaborations and strengths in basic science revealed in new White Paper

WINNIPEG, Sept. 5, 2012 /CNW/ - Many Canadians don't know it but Canada is a major contributor to global efforts to develop an HIV vaccine.

An analysis of HIV vaccine research over the past five years (2007-2012) shows that Canada is first per capita in the number of articles published when compared to other leading nations involved in HIV-vaccine research (i.e., United States, United Kingdom, France and South Africa). What's more, Canada ranks fourth globally in the total number of scholarly articles published on HIV vaccine-related research.

"Canada's research output compares favorably to world leading countries in HIV-vaccine development," says Dr. Greg Hammond, director of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative (CHVI) Research and Development Alliance Coordinating Office (ACO). "Canada's global role in HIV vaccine research is also evident in the world-class scientific collaborations involving Canadian researchers."

Of the published HIV vaccine-related research involving Canadian scientists over the past five years, approximately 90 per cent was collaborative in nature, involving either multiple Canadian institutions or researchers worldwide. Among these collaborative efforts, Canadian scientists appeared as first and/or last authors on approximately 72 per cent of published articles, revealing the leadership and impact of Canadian research.

With the support of SHI Consulting Inc., the ACO recently consulted with HIV vaccine researchers, industry, funders, and non-profit organizations across Canada and the United States for strategic direction on Canada's ongoing contribution. It subsequently released a White Paper, entitled Building Linkages, Achieving Impact: A Framework to Guide the Canadian HIV Vaccine Research and Development Alliance, which highlights Canada's strengths in HIV vaccine research and the direction moving forward.

Meanwhile, a recent Probe Research poll, also commissioned by the ACO, shows that 81 per cent of Canadians think Canada should play a major role in international efforts to develop an HIV vaccine. Of the 1,500 people surveyed, 19 per cent viewed it as a top priority and 62 per cent saw it as a major priority*.

"Canadians want Canada to be involved in finding a vaccine to stop the HIV pandemic," says Heather Medwick, CEO of the International Centre for Infectious Diseases - a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization that runs the ACO.  "Even though most of the 34 million people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries, HIV is a major concern in developed nations like Canada where the rate of new infections has increased dramatically among vulnerable populations over the past decade."

To help find a vaccine, Canadian HIV scientists have largely focused their research efforts on the basic biology of HIV, specifically publishing articles in the fields of immunology (how the immune system responds),  virology (how HIV is transmitted), and microbiology (how the virus invades and reproduces in the cell).

"Understanding these basic building blocks of HIV infection is essential to vaccine development. So while Canadian researchers have not been as actively involved in clinical trials that test vaccines, they feed the global research pipeline leading to development and screening of HIV vaccine candidates," says Dr. Allan Ronald, the ACO's scientific advisor.

With Canada's performance record in mind, the ACO used a consultative process to develop the strategic White Paper, which identifies the following four, high-level priorities that will set the stage for Canada's future role in HIV-vaccine development:

  • Harness Canada's excellence in basic science and strengthen linkages across research areas and with the community;
  • Continue to build on Canada's strengths in clinical research, community engagement and capacity-building globally and nationally;
  • Accelerate the translation of Canada's scientific discoveries into viable vaccine candidates; and
  • Provide resources and engage young and early-career investigators.

The framework outlined in the White Paper is intended to influence decision-making and direct Canada's HIV vaccine research efforts nationally and globally, but it is not meant to prescribe specific targets or timelines.

"The process to develop the White Paper reflects the shared aspirations of funders, global research organizations, the HIV community, and Canadian researchers. It will help to build upon Canada's niche and further amplify Canada's contribution to global HIV vaccine research efforts," Hammond says.

The CHVI, Canada's contribution to the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, is a five-year collaborative initiative between the Government of Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and represents a significant Canadian contribution to global efforts to develop a safe, effective, affordable and globally accessible HIV vaccine. The CHVI Research and Development Alliance Coordinating Office (ACO) was established by the Government of Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in November 2011 at the International Centre for Infectious Diseases (ICID), a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The ACO is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

*The national survey by Probe Research Inc. was conducted between July 4th and 6th, 2012 on 1,500 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists.  Because the sample is based on those who self-selected for participation in this research panel, no sampling error can be calculated. However, a probability sample of this size would yield a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

For details, read the backgrounder

SOURCE: Alliance Coordinating Office

For further information:

Renée Barclay,
Communications Specialist, Alliance Coordinating Office
International Centre for Infectious Diseases
Tel: 204-946-5157 

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Alliance Coordinating Office

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