CAPRISA celebrates 20 years of scientific excellence
The 20-year celebratory symposium and gala dinner held on Monday 26 June at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre Complex in Durban was an extraordinary event bringing together leading scientists from the US, UK and the WHO, policy makers, government, ambassadors and consulates and South African scientists to mark two decades of scientific excellence since its establishment in 2002.
CAPRISA, has reached a 20-year milestone in research addressing the two biggest AIDS challenges in Africa: reducing HIV-TB co-infection deaths and preventing new HIV infections in young women, said Prof Quarraisha Abdool Karim (Associate Scientific Director and co-founder of CAPRISA) acknowledging CAPRISA’s five founding partner institutions. “It is wonderful to have this opportunity to meet and interact with each of you. It really is so heart-warming, to me... this is what humanity is about. It's our interactions. It's our connections and it’s our friendships. And it is that, that has brought us to this milestone event in CAPRISA.”
Established during the height of the HIV epidemic and AIDS denialism in South Africa as a multi-institutional independent non-profit AIDS Research Organisation working with many partners across the world, CAPRISA has grown into an international research organization recognized for excellence in science, policy, and scientific leadership. Prof Salim Abdool Karim (Director & co-founder of CAPRISA) outlined CAPRISA’s achievements in his presentation titled: CAPRISA: A 20-year journey which focused on scientific leadership, science advice and impact on policy in 3 key areas: improving TB-HIV treatment, preventing HIV in young women, and understanding SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Over the last 20 years CAPRISA scientists have produced 1430 journal articles, said Abdool Karim. Of these, 40% had a CAPRISA scientist as the first author and 42% of the articles are published in high-impact journals with impact factors higher than 5. “A CAPRISA article appears in Nature and Science about 3 and 2 times a year, respectively. They appear 2 times every 12 months—in the New England Journal of Medicine. A Lancet journal article is produced every 2 months,” he said.
The award-winning South African research organization provided the first scientific evidence and proof-of-concept showing that antiretrovirals prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and that integrated TB-HIV treatment halves co-infection deaths which is included in the WHO guidelines on HIV-TB co-infection treatment. The results won widespread acclaim and were published in the prestigious journal Science in 2010 and made headlines in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Guardian. CAPRISA’s seminal research paved the way for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which is widely used in HIV prevention today. CAPRISA is now studying broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) as a potential long-acting injectable HIV prevention strategy. The discovery of the CAPRISA 256 bnAb provides the opportunity to evaluate passive immunization as a potential long-acting injectable HIV prevention strategy.
A high-level panel discussion on CAPRISA’s research and future challenges followed Abdool Karim’s presentation and included eminent scientists: Prof Thomas Quinn (Director: John Hopkins Center for Global Health & Vice-Chair of CAPRISA’s Scientific Advisory Board); Prof Linda Fried (Dean, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University); Prof Sten Vermund Anna Lauder Professor, School of Public Health, Yale University; Prof Wafaa El Sadr, Director Columbia World Projects &ICAP; & Justice Leona Theron, Judge of the Constitutional Court, SA). Quinn praised “both the depth and breadth of the science that CAPRISA practices every day… and he underscored “the mentorship that CAPRISA does by example to all the young scientists, because they're our future,” he said.
Ambassador John Nkengasong, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator & Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy; Prof Peter Piot Special Advisor on Covid-19 to the President of the European Commission; and Prof Jeremy Farrar Chief Scientist, World Health Organisation (who attended the symposium in his personal capacity) delivered keynote addresses. CAPRISA has received recognition with over 30 prestigious awards from South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, India and Japan. Earlier this year the government of Japan hosted Salim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim laureates of the prestigious Fourth Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize, medical research category for “outstanding achievements to combat infectious and other diseases in Africa, thus contributing to the health and welfare of the African people and of all humankind.” The Abdool Karims serve on several high-level bodies - Quarraisha Abdool Karim is the president of The World Academy of Sciences TWAS), the first woman to hold this position and Salim Abdool Karim is the Science Advisor to the Director General of the WHO.
Minister of Health in South Africa, Dr Joseph Phaahla paid tribute to CAPRISA in his keynote address, saying “we as South Africans and on behalf of the Health Ministry and also on behalf of government are proud to be associated with your work and look forward to more cutting-edge research which will continue to shape the way we develop policy and continue to change the lives of people.”
At the celebratory gala dinner Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo presented 20-year awards for long service to CAPRISA staff. The awards were presented to Prof Kogie Naidoo (Deputy Director & Head: HIV&TB Treatment research), Dr Tanuja Gengiah (Head Pharmacy & Senior Scientist) and Ms Joyce Mchunu, (Counsellor) at the Vulindlela Research Clinical site. He presented CAPRISA Awards to Profs Quarraisha Abdool Karim (Associate Scientific Director) and Ayesha Kharsany (Senior Scientist). The awards were presented “in recognition of two decades of exceptional commitment/contributions and dedication to research excellence”.
Cover photo: At the symposium (R-L) Councillor Zandile Myeni Deputy Mayor eThekwini, Minister of Health Dr Joseph Phaahla with Profs Jeremy Farrar, Peter Piot & Salim Abdool Karim