Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) at Entebbe is one of the leading HIV research institutes in Uganda. Its main partner, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is based in New York, USA. IAVI’s new CEO, Margie McGlynn was in Uganda last month and gave Halima Shaban an exclusive interview
Qn: How did you end up IAVI CEO?
I have been in the pharmaceutical industry for 26 years. My father was a pharmacist and I lost my two sisters and a brother to preventable diseases. In my previous portfolio, I had a measles vaccine and measles has virtually been eliminated in many countries. I want to do the same for HIV.
Qn: What is your vaccine experience?
I am an experienced biopharmaceutical executive with expertise in the vaccine and antiretroviral markets. I spent 26 years with Merck where
I launched several initiatives to provide access for Merck vaccines and HIV therapies in the developing world.
After 2009, I became President, Global Vaccines and Anti-Infectives, with a $7b portfolio of products.
I also served on the board and executive committee of the GAVI alliance which provides life-saving vaccines against common infectious diseases.
I also played a major role in the formation of the Hilleman Centre, a research centre focused on developing new vaccines for the developing world.
Qn: Impressive! Ugandans want to know, will there be an HIV vaccine in our lifetime?
Absolutely! I am committed to that. I do not think we need events for a wheel chair before getting into an office chair. I cannot give a time line. It is not in the next few years but the biggest opportunity has already come with the studies in Bangkok which demonstrated 30% efficacy and subsequent trials are now planned in Bangkok and South Africa. We need to follow the lead we have to see an HIV vaccine over our life time.
Qn: What is your biggest challenge?
It is at a science level. The HIV keeps on changing and so our target changes consistently. Even if your body develops a new response, the virus changes its attack. It also attacks the immune cells, which are the very cells you need to fight it. Apart from the science, there is the funding problem.
Qn: How will you manage with the global financial crisis?
I believe if IAVI continues to demonstrate value through successful studies, protocols and clinical trials, we will continue to be well positioned as a high quality product development partnership.
If we show that we can help turn promising vaccine concepts into products, funders will appreciate our importance
Qn: Are you satisfied with the facilities at UVRI?
Oh yes I am. The clinical trial facilities and the laboratory facilities are first class and have a tremendous face upon which to build for the future. The staff is very dedicated and the leaders are very passionate.
Qn: What would you like to improve?
One of my highest priorities is to make sure IAVI continues to partner successfully with all other key participants in the quest for an HIV vaccine. We are combining efforts because we have formidable challenges and we continue working, contacting each other and finding signs across our capabilities in programmes that can lead to the development of a vaccine in the shortest time possible.
Qn: Any additional support you expect from Uganda?
The Government has been a very important partner. They have supported us in every study we want to do. So, I expect this support to continue in future.