10 Aug AIGHD in Person: Remko van Leeuwen
He believes in breaking down barriers between research and other sectors so that research can have a greater impact in the real world. He does this by building partnerships with the private sector and other partners to improve the situation for those who lack access to basic affordable healthcare.
“I work at AIGHD because the values of the organization align with those of my own. This is an organization that works to improve healthcare and development, and that is important for me,” said Remko van Leeuwen, Director of Acquisitions at AIGHD.
van Leeuwen met Prof. Joep Lange, the founder of AIGHD in 1989 when he had just completed his medical training in Rotterdam. He pursued a PhD under the supervision of Prof. Lange.
“I completed my PhD while researching the first HIV drug, Azidothymidine (AZT), a compound first synthesized by Prof. Jerome Horowitz in 1964 as an anti-cancer drug. In the late 1980s and early 1990s many new compounds came out, and they needed to be tested as a viable HIV medications. Much of the initial work of AIGHD grew out of these drug trials.”
The work of AIGHD soon branched out to cover a much broader range of topics including health systems, aging, infectious disease elimination, antimicrobial resistance, poverty, and human development. van Leeuwen wears two hats at AIGHD, he manages his own projects in the area of vaccine development and he supports other researchers in developing new programs and securing funding for these.
“I am the Project Director of a larger EU grant to develop a vaccine against influenza. The idea is to develop a vaccine that will help India manage influenza. We hope that this vaccine can cover a broader strain of seasonal influenza and that this will be much cheaper than what is currently on the market. This is a very nice interdisciplinary project in a field that usually only involves laboratory work. We have contributed our interdisciplinary expertise by also looking at how we can reduce regulatory hurdles that this vaccine gets to the people who need it.”
One of AIGHD’s research priorities is to support research around better and cheaper vaccines.
When van Leeuwen is not busy managing his own grants, he takes part in business development activities for AIGHD. This means that he keeps a dialogue with all the researchers around their ideas for research. Then, he matches these ideas with current funding opportunities in and outside of the Netherlands.
“It is very exciting to work on new ideas, that is why I am in business development. My job is very creative because at the beginning of a new project there is a lot of room for innovation and new ideas. I used to work in project management, or clinical trial operations, where there is much less room for new ideas.”
Going forward, van Leeuwen would like to see even stronger collaboration with groups outside of academia.
“I think that we could reach even more impact with our research if we partnered with various interest groups and with the private sector on more projects. The type of research that we do lends itself well towards these sorts of collaborations because we are always focused on the impact that we can make. Take the example of an epidemic, just finding a vaccine will not and the epidemic. You also need to work with implementing organizations and local governments to make sure that people receive treatment and that prevention is in place.”