Norman Lamb MP visited the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Human Immunology Laboratory at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital last week.
The Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee was hosted by Dr Julia Makinde as part of the Royal Society’s pairing scheme, which links up politicians and policymakers with scientists to strengthen the bond between policymaking and scientific evidence.
After being welcomed to the hospital by Dr Julia Makinde, who spent a week shadowing him in Parliament last month, Mr Lamb was introduced to members of the IAVI team before seeing a number of presentations on the work of the group.
A vaccine remains our best hope against AIDS - treatment alone has never ended an epidemic Professor Jill Gilmour
The morning opened with a presentation on the IAVI’s global strategy from Professor Jill Gilmour, Executive Director, Human Immunology and Principal Investigator, IAVI Human Immunology Laboratory at Imperial College London, where she outlined the incredible progress in treating HIV and developing preventative medication such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). But she also made clear the challenging funding environment for HIV vaccine research, noting that the majority of the team’s funding is provided by USAID, the US government’s international development agency.
She outlined how “a vaccine remains our best hope against AIDS, as treatment alone has never ended an epidemic” and made clear the importance of funding vaccine research as well as other preventative medication such as PrEP – especially given that vaccines can be cheaper to deliver than daily lifelong drug treatments.
Professor Gilmour then spoke about the work of the IAVI’s Human Immunology Lab (HIL), which serves as the clinical immunology reference laboratory for IAVI and its research partners worldwide. As an accredited Good Clinical Laboratory Practice (GCLP) laboratory with expertise in developing and conducting immunology assays for research and clinical trials, the HIL specializes in the analysis of immune responses as part of vaccine development partnerships. The HIL also delivers global health impact by working on vaccines for other diseases including Lassa, Ebola, malaria, and tuberculosis.
Dr Makinde then presented an overview of the group’s research projects including their Viral Immunome Profiling Project which applies computational and systems analysis to help identify the correlates of early and sustained control of HIV infection with a view to informing the design of therapies. She spoke about the pivotal roles that IAVI and Imperial College have played in the bio banking of critical samples to enable her research.
UK R&D challenges
In a roundtable discussion that focused on the challenges associated with UK R&D, the HIL team expressed their concerns about the future of research partnerships and access to Horizon Europe funds and networks when the UK leaves the EU. Imperial has been campaigning for the UK to seek associate membership of the programme.
In response, Mr Lamb expressed his view that “in a post-Brexit world, this country has to get into a leading position of being an innovation nation” and that his committee will be working to ensure that the government meets its target of raising public and private R&D expenditure to 2.4% of GDP.
Following the roundtable discussion, Mr Lamb donned a lab coat and was taken on an extensive tour of the IAVI GCLP facility at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital including the flow cytometry suite, tissue culture laboratory, and sample repository.
Investigating the efficacy of research spending
The Commons Science and Technology Committee is currently running an inquiry into the balance and effectiveness of research spending in the UK, to which the College has made a submission. In its response, Imperial called for investment in science, research and innovation to be balanced “across the research ecosystem from fundamental discovery to applied research”.
The College also emphasised the importance of maximising research impact and return on taxpayers’ investment by allocating research funding based on excellence.
The College will host Teresa Pearce MP and Matt Rodda MP in the coming months, both of whom welcomed Imperial scientists into their parliamentary offices for a week in November.
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