When you think of a scientist at work, you may picture a solitary expert working obsessively in a lab. This image has now been dispelled by a unique group of researchers working in collaboration to block HIV transmission.
© Fotolia, 2012
The EU-funded HIV Enterprise (EUROPRISE) is a network of scientists who have broken down the divisions between their research disciplines. Working in partnership not only helped the scientists make advances in HIV research, but also represents a new model of international scientific collaboration.
The EUROPRISE network brought together 70 organisations to define new standards for research and pool substantial amounts of data in a way that would not have been possible for a single institution acting alone.
Moreover, the network was also able to establish a new PhD training programme in HIV prevention technology. This scheme trained over 60 students, including those from China, India and Tanzania.
Natasha Polyanskaya, EUROPRISE Project Manager, said: "We've built a new foundation for future generations of scientists working in this field. Our training courses are such a success that people are happy to share their expertise with our network. What we created was quite unique."
The central collaboration in EUROPRISE is between specialists in vaccine and microbicides, the vaginal gels and creams that are used to help prevent HIV transmission.
These two disciplines had previously worked independently, but EUROPRISE brought them together in the largest consortium of its kind anywhere in the world. The researchers are trying to find innovative ways of using vaccines and microbicides.
EUROPRISE attracted expertise and contributions from over 70 institutions and companies from 13 European countries. Companies involved included GSK, Novartis, Mabtech and Sanofi Pasteur. One unexpected consequence of the EUROPRISE collaboration is that its partners have initiated clinical trials, some of which involves eight African countries.
Professor Robin Shattock, Coordinator of EUROPRISE, said: "EUROPRISE did not plan to support clinical trials, but one of its main successes is that it has actually filled the gaps in the fragmentation in European HIV research in vaccines and microbicides. Because there has been the possibility of sharing information and strategies from previous trials, new clinical trials have been supported within EUROPRISE. So although conducting clinical trials is not the aim of a network of excellence, we could support them and make available within the network the outcomes of several that were conducted. This has expanded the breadth of the project."
EUROPRISE also provided its research partners with a recognised identity and platform on the international stage. They now sit on a number of important global committees, including the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and the WHO/UNAIDS Vaccine Advisory Committee.
The researchers involved in EUROPRISE received EU funding of €15.5 million and represent more than 40 projects. EUROPRISE also attracted funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the US Department of Health.