On World AIDS Day, Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) has launched a dedicated research programme to support the Scottish Government’s ambitious plans to become the first country in the world to end HIV transmission and significantly reduce the impact of Hepatitis C.

The University for the Common Good has a track record in research on blood borne viruses (BBV). GCU has therefore today cemented its commitment to supporting national, and ultimately global efforts, to eradicate HIV transmission with a new £2.5million investment in the GCU-led research team over the next 10 years.

The launch of the Beyond BBV – Drawing a line under HIV and Hep C research programme, led by world-leading blood borne virus experts, will strengthen the University’s collaborative partnership with Public Health Scotland (PHS) and the Scottish Government in this endeavour.

Professor in Sexual Health and HIV Claudia Estcourt and Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health Sharon Hutchinson will be driving the research programme, alongside GCU Honorary Professors Rak Nandwani, a Non-Executive Director of PHS, and Nicola Steedman, the Scottish Government’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

Professor Alison Rodger, an infectious disease academic from UCL with specific research and policy focus on HIV prevention, will also be joining the GCU team on a part-time basis to particularly focus on the implementation of the research into public health practice.

Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE, who has researched and written widely on HIV/AIDS during her career, said: “This year, we were ranked first in Scotland, and second in the UK, for the impact of our health research and that is a remarkable achievement for a relatively young university.

“Now, we have made a new, ambitious but deliverable commitment to the collaborative science and public health practice that will allow Scotland to be the first nation in the world to eradicate HIV and deal with Hepatitis C blood borne infections.

“Glasgow Caledonian University is so committed to eradicating HIV, and dealing with Hepatitis C in Scotland and beyond, that we are investing £2.5m to ensure it can be delivered over a 10-year horizon. We made this commitment in the knowledge that our other partners are also committed to supporting this programme, both financially and with their scientific and public health expertise.

“I am extremely impressed by the GCU team’s vision and research excellence, and also their approach to effective partnership working which will create a programme that will transform lives, both at home and around the world.”

At the same time, the Scottish Government marked World AIDS Day by unveiling its new HIV transmission elimination proposals – ending HIV transmission by 2030, in which GCU researchers are heavily involved.

As part of the HIV Transmission Elimination Oversight Group (HiTEOG), the GCU Professors supported Professor Nandwani who led on the proposals to end HIV transmission in Scotland, along with other experts from the third sector, NHS and Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government has now announced proposals to set up a new HIV Transmission Elimination Implementation Group involving the GCU team, co-led by Professor Steedman, and the world’s first national e-PrEP (HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis) service, led by Professor Estcourt, to pilot an online PrEP clinic providing online prescriptions, and HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) check-ups.

Professor Estcourt, a world-renowned HIV and PrEP expert at GCU, said: “Beyond BBV aims to produce world-leading research, readily translated into national policy and public health action to deliver population-level sustained health improvement.

“This fantastic 10-year commitment from GCU highlights the University’s standing as a world leader in HIV and Hepatitis C elimination research, our award-winning collaborative working, our mission for the Common Good and commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“This focused and ambitious national approach, built on strong policy, academic, public health, clinical and NGO partnership working, could form a blueprint for other health conditions and nations.”

GCU’s Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health Sharon Hutchinson, who is also a PHS Consultant Scientist, said her team were “incredibly proud to be part of national efforts to end HIV transmission and the impact of Hepatitis C at such a key point in Scotland’s journey”.

She added: “Scotland is well placed to eliminate HIV transmission and Hepatitis C as a major public health concern.  Through early adoption of key public health measures, Scotland is one of few countries to have already achieved major progress, with demonstrable population-level impact on HIV transmission and Hepatitis C infection and disease.

“Enhanced public health surveillance will be central to direct efforts going forward. And there remain unanswered questions – regarding how to reach people who remain unaware of their infection and how to reduce inequities in access to prevention and treatment services – which rigorous research needs to address.

“Now, more than ever, we need to work effectively across key organisations and sectors in order to achieve our bold ambitions. I am confident that we can achieve these ambitious goals through collaborative working with Public Health Scotland, NHS boards, patient and community organisations, and Scottish Government.”

Earlier this year, Professors Estcourt and Hutchinson’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses (SHBBV) research team won the 2021 Emerald Publishing International Real Impact Award – Mobilising Research into Action category – for demonstrating impactful results in BBV prevention among some of the most disadvantaged people in society through true collaborative working.

They also received a letter of commendation from Scotland’s Public Health Minister Maree Todd MSP for their world-leading HIV and Hepatitis C prevention research in people who inject drugs.

The team’s HIV and Hepatitis C research played a big part in the School of Health and Life Sciences’ ReaCH recent success in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results in May. The School’s outstanding real-world impact of health research was assessed as joint first in Scotland and joint second in the UK.

ReaCH makes a direct and significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 3 – good health and wellbeing – issued by the United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for peace and prosperity across the planet.

For more information about the new Beyond BBV programme click here –  gcu.ac.uk/beyondbbv

Find out more about the Scottish Government’s proposals – World’s first online HIV prevention service – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)