Nina Russell, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

TITLE: Deputy Director, HIV

FUNDING AREAS: HIV vaccine research

CONTACT: nina.russell@gatesfoundation.org, 206-709-3100

IP TAKE: Russell has been in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention research since the 1980s. Her focus at Gates: a vaccine that would prevent HIV outright.

PROFILE: Nina Russell has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research since AIDS was a relatively new—and much scarier—concept. This is impressive for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that she had finished high school only four years earlier when, in 1986, she began working on the Phase II trial of AZT, the first AIDS treatment drug. Russell spent nearly two more decades in AIDS research before coming to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2005.

During her time in the medical field, Russell earned her MD from Case Western Reserve University, completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center and was a clinical and research fellow in Infectious Diseases at the Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Russell also worked at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on HIV vaccine development, and managed phases of HIV vaccine clinical trials for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Today, Russell is cochair of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative Advisory Board, and a member of the National Institute of Health's subcommittee on AIDS Vaccine Research in addition to her role at Gates.

At Gates, Russell's area of focus is HIV vaccine research. Gates has a major global HIV/AIDS program and awards relatively large grants. (One of the smallest HIV-related projects the foundation has funded recently is a $30,000 investment in an Indian NGO's ability to make small grants in the region that discourage and treat childhood HIV/AIDS.)

Most of the Gates Foundation's grants, however, are much larger, with several in the million or multimillion-dollar range. Which makes sense, given Gates' size and scope. With annual giving of about $3.2 billion, Gates has some serious cash to put toward some of the world's most complicated and pressing problems. And that's exactly what the foundation is trying to do, according to a letter on the website written by Bill and Melinda Gates. As they put it, "We focus on only a few issues because we think that's the best way to have great impact, and we focus on these issues in particular because we think they are the biggest barriers that prevent people from making the most of their lives."

Among the foundation's recent grants in HIV vaccines is a $500,000 investment in the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, a global alliance of independent organizations coordinating their work in the development of a preventive vaccine for HIV. The Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise will use the Gates money to convene all sorts of HIV experts—doctors, policymakers, researchers, and so on—in South Africa to collaborate on vaccines and HIV prevention.

The foundation has some overarching themes in its HIV grantmaking. Among them: a focus on regions of the world where HIV/AIDS funding from the government or other sources is scarce and a linkage to one of Gates's six HIV-fighting priorities (vaccine research and development, voluntary medical male circumcision, anti-retroviral prevention methods, improved diagnostic methods, improved service delivery, and "demonstrating the scalability of HIV programs.")