February 28, 2014

IAVI Mourns Loss of Ugandan AIDS Vaccine Researcher

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) mourns the loss of Dr. Kenneth Anthony Kalanyi Kebba, a partner and colleague with the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) in Uganda, and a brilliant young scientist who played a large role as a clinical investigator for the first HIV vaccine trial undertaken in Africa. Dr. Kebba died tragically on February 15 as a result of a brain aneurism. He is survived by a wife and two small children.

“Anthony was known as one of the most committed and diligent leaders in the battle to defeat HIV/AIDS in the East Africa region,” said Seth F. Berkley, President and CEO of IAVI, in an email to staff on February 15.

“I have personally lost a colleague, but Africa has also lost a young scientist in an area where there is very limited human capacity,” said Dr. Pontiano Kaleebu, Principal Investigator of the UVRI/IAVI HIV Vaccine Program. “It is my hope that Anthony’s life as a scientist will be an inspiration to the younger generation—to emulate his dynamism, interest in science and above all build on and sustain the work that he had initiated.”

Dr. Kebba worked passionately in the field of AIDS vaccines over the past decade. As a young doctor, he worked at Kabarole Hospital in Fort Portal, Uganda and then served as coordinator of the Sleeping Sickness Control Programme for the Southeast region of Uganda, based in Jinja. In 1997, Anthony decided to join the Joint Clinical Research Centre in Kampala, serving as a clinical investigator in the ALVAC HIV vaccine trial.

Subsequently, Dr. Kebba obtained a Rogers Research Fellowship and began conducting intensive research on HIV infection at the Uganda Research Unit on AIDS of the UK MRC, which is based at the UVRI in Entebbe. Anthony received a PhD training fellowship from the Wellcome Trust, and completed his work in 2004. By that time, seven of his publications had appeared in world-class journals; he was the lead author of six of them.

“Anthony was one of the most dedicated scientists I’ve ever met—very committed to Uganda’s struggle against HIV,” said Leslie Nielsen, IAVI’s Country Director in Uganda. “He was a remarkable team player and was enormously liked and respected by everyone who knew him.”

Only 36 years old, Dr. Kebba most recently served as a principal investigator with the MRC and UVRI. His research interests included the pathology of HIV infection in developing countries and the biology of exposed seronegative cohorts—which Anthony dubbed as the “Rubicon Study” after Cesar’s crossing of the River Rubicon two thousand years ago to change the course of the history of the Roman Empire.

Dr. Kebba worked closely with many organizations, including colleagues at Entebbe Hospital, the AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), and the AIDS Information Centre in Kampala. He also received funding from donor agencies including IAVI and the Centre for HIV-AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI), and was appointed as an honorary lecturer in the department of Immunology within the Division of Investigative Science in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College in London.

“Anthony was someone I respected as a scientist. He was an extremely hardworking, determined individual with great humility and good humour,” said Jill Gilmour, Research & Development Senior Director at IAVI. “Anthony was a scientist who would always work until a job was done. He is greatly missed by his young research team,” added Andrea von Lieven, IAVI Clinical Program Manager.