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Puerto Rico Makes Important Strides To Support Vaccine Research to Combat HIV

James Albino

James Albino

The Obama Administration is a strong partner in helping Puerto Rico to develop the industries that will support its long-term economic growth. One such opportunity is to work through the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico to identify opportunities can work more closely with partners to ensure that Puerto Rico’s best days are ahead.

Earlier this week, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla of Puerto Rico, announced a collaborative effort to develop a vaccine to combat the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, between the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Investigations Trust, and the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (PRIDCO). This collaborative effort links Puerto Rico’s formidable biologics industry expertise, academic bio-medical research, and a long history of HIV studies and proven experts trained in Puerto Rico, with the experience of NIH in their tenacious global effort to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While at the White House Office of National HIV/AIDS Policy (ONAP), I authored a 2012 New Year’s message titled Persistence, Promise and Hope for the End, wherein I highlighted an announcement that Science —one of the world’s leading scientific research journals—had chosen the HPTN 052 study, an HIV-related clinical trial, as its 2011 “Breakthrough of the Year.” The editors noted that they chose the study “because of HPTN 052′s profound implications for the future response to the AIDS epidemic.” I was inspired a month earlier, on Worlds AIDS Day (December 1) 2011, as I sat in the audience mesmerized, as President Obama, joined by former Presidents Bush and Clinton (via video link) and a multitude of world leaders, proclaimed a global effort to mark the beginning of the end of AIDS – a notion that for many years and for too many patients and family members, seemed far away. The conversation that many of us had had about HIV/AIDS had turned from years of despair to one of hope.

prThat same year, the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico issued its report to the President [PDF 15.2MB] with a series of recommendations for building competitive industries and enhancing economic development. One key recommendation was to support the creation of the Caribbean’s Health Science and Research Center (Science City) on the island: “Puerto Rico has many of the infrastructure elements necessary to develop a regional health and research cluster as an engine for economic development. The Task Force’s recommendation to create a health science and research center helps meet both the health and economic challenges confronting Puerto Rico.”

Governor Padilla’s announcement this week and the President’s call to action on World AIDS Day 2011 is the fusion of two universes that help to spur important progress towards combating HIV/AIDS. The notion that Puerto Rico may progress through its academic strengths and biologics industry expertise, not only to promote its own economic development and growth in health and research sciences, but to join our Federal partners at NIH to stop the spread of HIV and ultimately defeat AIDS, is extraordinarily hopeful.

The Obama Administration, through the ongoing work of the President’s Task Force remains dedicated to being a strong partner in helping Puerto Rico achieve this important goal. In the months ahead, the Task Force, which consists of a diverse group of federal staff from across various agencies, will continue to take actions that complement local efforts to promote job creation, education, health care, clean energy and economic development in Puerto Rico.