New Vaccine Research Effort Launched as Advocate Steps Down

The vaccine world's revolving door took a fast spin today as the head of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise announced his retirement and a new foundation for vaccine research was born.

Alan Bernstein, who took over the helm at the New York-based Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise in 2008, helped the then fledgling organization join together researchers, funders, and advocates. Under his tenure, the enterprise formed a secretariat, published a strategic plan to guide the field, and started a program for young investigators. "I feel like I've accomplished a lot of what I set out to do," Bernstein told ScienceInsider. "It's time for new leadership, and I'm a strong believer in passing the torch."

Bernstein, who previously headed the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, plans to take a few months off before exploring new job options. José Esparza, the senior advisor on HIV vaccines at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will serve as interim president until the board selects a new one.

Meanwhile, scientists and advocates for all vaccine research today launched yet another effort to increase funding and coordination. The Foundation for Vaccine Research, based in Washington, D.C., has recruited a board stacked with several prominent HIV/AIDS researchers, including Ronald Desrosiers of the New England Primate Research Center, Simon Wain-Hobson of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, and Robin Weiss of University College London.

Peter Hale, an advertising specialist who has long worked with HIV/AIDS researchers, started the foundation. "No one has been campaigning or lobbying for all vaccine research, and it's desperately needed," says Hale. "The science and technology are there, but the resources aren't." He plans to organize telethons to raise funding, which he says then will be awarded to grants that review committees will evaluate rapidly. "There are teams of scientists out there crying out for money, and we've only had two major sources of funds, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation," says Hale.

The foundation also wants to confront the prevalence of misinformation on vaccines that has convinced thousands of new parents to forgo vaccination for their babies. "It's a huge issue, and somebody needs to take it on," Hale says. "Nobody, with the exception of a few brave individuals like Paul Offitt—who is on our board—has done it yet."