Established by the International AIDS Society’s Past President Joep Lange in 2001, the Industry Liaison Forum (ILF) has been a multi-stakeholder platform consisting of industry, community, academia, normative agencies and international organizations that have a mission to accelerate scientifically promising, ethical HIV research in resource-limited countries, with a particular focus on the roles and responsibilities of industry as sponsors and supporters of research. It emerged from a shared need to tackle a number of ethical issues related to conducting research in resource-limited settings (RLS). The ILF convened and mobilized various stakeholders to address complex and inter-related issues and identify overlooked research issues. It was also based on the recognition of the roles and responsibilities of pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies as partners in the fight against HIV.
The ILF has been governed by an advisory group that was co-chaired by an IAS Governing Council (GC) member and an industry representative. Members of the ILF Advisory Group consisted of scientific representatives of industry, four IAS GC members, two community representatives, and up to four experts from international organizations, UN agencies or academia with expertise in the strategic priorities of the ILF.
Initially, the ILF promoted dialogue around key issues in HIV research in RLS, including considerations around post-trial care provision, as well as the quality of generic drugs (as outlined in the 2002-2003 progress report, Clinical Research in the Developing World Towards a Consensus Framework: Focus on Provision of Post-Trial Care). Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) officially became a priority of the ILF as part of its Strategic Plan 2006-2008, which emphasized the need for consultation on the ethical considerations around antiretroviral (ARV)-based prevention research.
The value of the ILF was recognized in an evaluation performed in 2007 in which respondents demonstrated strong support for the ILF as a vehicle for bringing together key stakeholders to address specific scientific and operational issues related to conducting research in RLS and the work undertaken around PrEP. There was also a strong desire from the group for the ILF to become more “action oriented and outcomes focused” while establishing “more tangible objectives/outcomes” for its work. Respondents also identified the need to broaden representation in meetings, with more government participation and increased engagement with researchers from low- and middle-income countries.
In preparation for its Strategic Plan 2008-2011, following a priority-setting exercise, the ILF Advisory Group decided to focus on increasing the number of HIV clinical research projects in RLS that industry is involved with and that address the needs of women and children, populations that were deemed to have been overlooked in the global response.
One of the tangible deliverables during the period of the Strategic Plan 2008-2011 was the multi-stakeholder consultation that resulted in a Consensus Statement endorsed by 16 organizations. Several related publications were also produced in this context: an ILF Environmental Scan, an article in BMC Public Health, and two articles in JAIDS in 2011 and 2012. The importance of women and children and the foresight of the ILF’s focus on these issues were affirmed in 2011 at the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York that placed special emphasis on the elimination of paediatric HIV and on the health of mothers.
In 2011, the ILF Advisory Group engaged in another priority-setting exercise for its Strategic Plan 2012-2014 and decided to maintain its focus on women and children. Challenges with regard to paediatric treatment options and optimal strategies for addressing women’s needs were considered overlooked areas in which industry, with other stakeholders, could play an important role. It furthermore expanded its area of influence by including challenges related to resistance, diagnostics, monitoring and other barriers.
With this strategic plan, the ILF has supported research and other strategies to: enhance treatment management; scale up prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programmes; improve prevention and treatment access and outcomes for vulnerable populations of women and children; optimize the potential of PrEP and other chemoprevention interventions; and promote best practices in public health policy and delivery.
In 2013, the ILF organized several events, including an Industry Roundtable on Paediatric ARVs entitled “Paediatric antiretrovirals: The barriers to and solutions for improved access to optimal drugs in resource-limited settings” (meeting report available online), the first of a new series of ILF Thematic Roundtables. The meeting was attended by 13 ARV manufacturers and 12 international organizations and highlighted key issues while giving rise to constructive ideas.
In 2013, the ILF also embarked on a process of rethinking itself. The entire ILF Advisory Group was involved and the work was expanded to rethinking the various ways in which the IAS had interacted with industry in the past and how it could do so in the future. The ILF is now evolving into playing a more central role within the IAS, towards building and strengthening synergy with industry in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemics.
The year 2014 saw the ILF broaden its constructive interactions with industry and other stakeholders. This revisited ILF builds on the successes of the ILF at embracing a multi-stakeholder approach, but in an expanded context and with an enhanced portfolio of impactful activities.