Reflections on the GVN Munich meeting

June 3, 2013

With the 5th semi-annual meeting of the Global Virus Network just behind us, I take this opportunity to offer some reflections and perspectives.  My first reflection is to look back on the beautiful host city of Munich, a bustling modern city that has managed to maintain its particular  historic charm and warmth.   Our 75 meeting participants, who hailed from 19 countries, reveled in the spirit of Bavaria at Zum Franziskaner, where we enjoyed an evening of local fare and traditions, and the Villa Stuck, where we experienced the art of one of Munich’s most famous citizens.  This was a warm and welcoming platform for the scientific discussions that took place over the course of three days.  We are deeply grateful the Technical University of Munich and the Center for Infection Research for hosting us with style!

Every scientific meeting is judged first by the quality of the scientific work and ideas put forward.  This meeting did not disappoint.  With many of the world’s leading medical virologists as members of the GVN, our meeting brought to the fore key challenges in sustaining the durability of protective immune responses induced by vaccines; the hopes and promise for universal flu vaccines; unpublished data on an emerging virus in Asia (SFTS, for Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome);  updates and research questions related to the new form of coronavirus circulating from the Middle East into Europe; and the prospects for cure and even elimination of hepatitis C, among many other issues.  In the closed portions of the meeting, discussions were frank and critical.  This is indeed the core of GVN:  scientists sharing data, ideas, and hopes, and listening to questions and criticisms from colleagues in order to advance research studies.  Importantly, new collaborations are forged. At this meeting, we explored notions of creating sub-networks for specific viruses in order to galvanize even more attention to research needs in priority areas; links between clinical care and research needs; and means to cross-train virologists in immunology, bioinformatics, modeling and other disciplines, among other issues.  We discussed opportunities to support and fund our work, including through leveraging relationships such as with The World Academy of Sciences, WHO and governmental flagship programs, such as the Science Mobility Program of Brazil.   In terms of the science of the meeting, then, we were encouraged by the quality of the data, level of passion of the scientists, and the clear commitment to global collaboration in moving forward to close gaps on much-needed research and training in medical virology.

Our meeting took place against a backdrop of policies to restrict travel of scientists because of declining governmental research funding, and this deserves note.  For a group such as GVN, a coalition of scientists positioned to engage on outbreaks and potential pandemics, the need for in-person meetings is paramount.    Travel support for meetings is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity.  Our government-affiliated scientific colleagues are important contributors .  Nothing can replace the face-to-face meetings of scientists.  Even with all of the videoconferencing and webinar technologies now available, in-person meetings with colleagues are the most effective way for new ideas and collaborations to develop.  These meetings not only provide opportunities to create new collaborations on the spot, but they allow scientists to get to know each other as people.  And they build trust.  As GVN strengthens itself as a coalition of researchers poised to engage in times of new viral outbreaks or in early stages of pandemics, trusting relationships across the network are paramount.  This can only be achieved as people get to know each other on a personal level.  Policies which limit travel of scientists to participate in conferences and workshops are therefore short-sighted.   Such policies stymie the scientific process and they reduce the ability of scientists to get to know their colleagues, and to build trusting relationships with them.  While cost-savings are critical in times of economic downturns, we should protect the ability of scientists to meet, particularly when their work focuses on issues of national and economic security, including safeguarding nations against future pandemics.  GVN will do everything possible to convene all of its affiliated scientists to share cutting-edge data across the network and to build and push forward relationships that will form the foundation for action to tackle new viral threats to mankind.

Our next GVN network meeting will be held in Moscow in September 2013, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Institute of Human Virology of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  In the open sessions of the Moscow meeting, we will hear from GVN experts with new data on key viruses.  And, we will deepen ties across the GVN Centers and with our partners in Russia, and worldwide.  This is a critical moment in time for GVN, and indeed for preparedness measures against viral diseases.  We are ready for the challenges ahead!


President, Global Virus Network