India, South Africa to team up on HIV vaccine research

[HYDERABAD] India and South Africa will launch a joint research project on basic science and vaccines for HIV strains common to both countries.

The project was formally approved by the governments of both countries last spring and is expected to be launched by the end of 2010.

Virander Chauhan, director of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, told SciDev.Net that the five-year, US$1 million dollar project will involve around five research groups from each country with core competence in basic and HIV vaccine research.

A successful partnership could serve as a model for similar South–South collaborations and inspire other developing countries to go the same route, Chauhan said.

South–South collaboration is high on the agenda of the meeting of TWAS, The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, in Hyderabad, India, this week (19–22 October), where a ministerial round-table discussion on Africa–India collaboration followed the formal opening of the meeting by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.

HIV has around ten known sub-types — or ‘clades’ — and most research to date has focused on clade B, which dominates in Europe and the United States. But clade C accounts for around 90 per cent of HIV infections in India and South Africa, which together have some of the highest infection rates in the world, Chauhan said.

Initially, research will look at designing antibodies against clade C, which could be used in a vaccine, he said.

Chauhan pointed out that the governments of both countries have already made huge investments in infrastructure, have enough scientific talent and are engaged in high-quality vaccine research.

He also suggested that developing countries should be doing good quality basic research focusing on global problems such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya and other neglected diseases.

Expertise to tackle such global problems exists in developing countries but strong collaboration and leadership to take such research forward are still lacking, he said.

“Collaboration is always useful but the two countries together produce less than six per cent of the world’s research in the field,” said Anastassios Pouris, director of the Institute for Technological Innovation at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

“The major problem related to HIV/AIDS research is that … with the exception of the USA, the industrialised countries are not interested. It is rich countries like Japan and Switzerland that should increase their research contribution in the field if society can expect to have a cure for HIV/AIDS.”

Source – SciDev.Net – T. V. Padma – 19 October 2010