Major scientific review recognises Unit’s achievements and secures new funding

Successful review concludes excellent 13 years of leadership for Professor Pontiano Kaleebu, who will step down as Unit Director in 2023
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The MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit has received an excellent assessment of its research achievements and contributions to tackling diseases in Uganda, Africa and globally.  

The five-year review by the Medical Research Council set out how the Unit is well placed to tackle myriad challenges including understanding the complexities of the HIV disease, the virus and host immunity, drug resistance and transmission, improving access to prevention and treatment services in populations with high HIV risk, investigating how diabetes occurs in relatively lean individuals in Africa, how political and social structures relate to vaccine confidence, and building on recent COVID-19 research, including genomic surveillance, to prepare for future pandemics.   

Also highlighted in the review was the vital research infrastructure provided by the Unit, including analytical equipment supporting clinical trials by enabling a wide range of diagnostic tests, a General Population Cohort, which was critical in studies on community transmission and impact of SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) and modern biobanking facilities with samples dating back to the early 1990s. These resources will continue to support the training of the next generation of African scientists. 

The success of the review follows a recent reorganisation to ensure the Unit’s financial stability, and the review’s outcome has secured another five years of core funding to deliver excellent research and rigorous capacity building. 

Following this latest success for the Unit, Professor Pontiano Kaleebu will be handing over leadership to a new Unit Director in the coming months.  

Prof Kaleebu said: “I’m very pleased and excited for the successful review. The Unit is an internationally recognised centre of excellence, and the success of this latest review is proof of the hard work and expertise of everyone at the Unit. This is testament to our past achievements and the high quality of our plans. We have a great future ahead of us. I will now be stepping down as Unit Director, to focus on my own science and to lead the viral pathogens theme within the Unit. It has been a privilege and an honor to lead this great research Institution.” 

Prof Kaleebu became the fourth Director of the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit in July 2010. During his tenure as Director he has overseen many significant milestones and achievements including expanding the Unit’s research expertise beyond HIV into other viral pathogens, vaccine research and non-communicable diseases. He has overseen major transformation since the Unit joined LSHTM in 2018, and has trained many young scientists to become the next generation of health leaders. 

Prof Kaleebu will remain in post until a new Director has been recruited to ensure a smooth transition. A global search for the new Director will begin in the coming weeks. After stepping down Prof Kaleebu will remain at the Unit as lead of the viral pathogens research theme. 

Professor Liam Smeeth, Director of LSHTM, said: “Pontiano has steered the Unit through a period of significant transformation and through major health crises including Ebola outbreaks and the global COVID-19 pandemic. I'm pleased Pontiano plans to remain a part of the LSHTM community to continue to contribute to the Unit's mission. His wealth of experience and expertise will continue to be of great benefit to our community and I thank him for all he has contributed as Unit Director.” 

“Rob Buckle, MRC Chief Science Officer said: “We are delighted to announce that this important MRC investment will be funded for a further 5 years following successful international peer review and wish to congratulate Pontiano on his successful stewardship of the Unit since 2010. The Unit is a beacon of research excellence in Sub-Saharan Africa and is well positioned to transition to new leadership and build on its strong record of success, continuing to deliver cutting-edge medical research for global benefit.” 

This year marks the 35th year of the Unit’s existence in Uganda.  


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