New Scientific Leadership Development Program Launches

Hello HVTN colleagues!

I am very pleased to announce the inaugural awardees under the HVTN’s new Scientific Leadership Development program. This program identifies mid-career scientists who would benefit from additional resources and mentorship on their way to becoming leaders in the field. This program also has a solid commitment to ensuring that our clinical trials are led by people from the communities which we serve. This year’s cohort of awardees has been selected by the Scientific Capacity Building Working Group. Please read their stories below. 

Valeria Cantos smiling.

Valeria Cantos, M.D.

Dr. Cantos is an infectious disease specialist and since 2017 she has been a clinician and co-investigator at the Emory University Ponce de Leon clinical research site in Atlanta, Georgia. She has served as co-investigator for several HVTN studies, including HVTN 137, HVTN 706 (MOSAICO), and HVTN 704 (AMP study). She has also served as lead site investigator for several inpatient and outpatient COVID-19 studies, as well as scientist-led HIV prevention projects. Dr. Cantos is the lead investigator for the Community Engagement team at her site. She is invested in optimizing representation of Latinx and Black populations in HIV vaccine and prevention clinical trials.

Mentor: Colleen Kelley, M.D., M.P.H., Emory University School of Medicine

Jorge Gallardo posing for a photo.

Jorge Gallardo, M.D.

Dr. Gallardo-Cartagena is a junior investigator at the Centro de Investigaciones Tecnológicas, Biomédicas y Medioambientales (CITBM) of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) in Lima, Peru. After completing his residency training in Infectious Diseases in 2017, he joined the PERU CTU and started working in HVTN trials as a study physician and sub-investigator at the Barranco CRS. In early 2018, he was appointed as HVTN Clinic Coordinator and CRS Coordinator, being in charge of the operational aspects of the HVTN 704/HPTN 085 (AMP) protocol implementation. Since 2019, he was designated Investigator of Record for the HVTN706 (MOSAICO) and CoVPN3003 (ENSEMBLE) protocols at the CITBM-UNIDEC CRS. He is also serving in the HVTN Network Evaluating Committee and the HVTN 804/HPTN 095 Protocol Team as a Consulting Investigator.

Mentor: Jorge Sánchez, M.D., M.P.H., PERU Clinical Trials Unit

Portia Hunidzarira smiling for a photo.

Portia Hunidzarira, M.B.Ch.B., M.Sc.

Dr. Hunidzarira has been the Clinical Research Site Leader at the Seke South CRS in Harare, Zimbabwe, since 2015. In that time, she has served as an investigator on HVTN 107 and 120, as well as the site Investigator of Record for HVTN 703 (AMP study) and the site Principal Investigator for HVTN 705 (Imbokodo). Dr. Hunidzarira has also been active in other networks, including the MTN with trials of the Dapivirine ring, and is involved in CoVPN protocols at the site (CoVPN5001, HVTN405/HPTN1901, and CoVPN3008). She also received a Master’s degree in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her mentor noted that she works closely with at-risk populations, community activists, and CABs as part of her leadership. She also serves as a member of the HVTN Scientific Governance committee and the HVTN Scientific Review Committee.

Mentor: Z. Mike Chirenje, M.D., F.R.C.O.G., University of Zimbabwe Clinical Trials Research Centre

Rachel Kawalazira, posing for a photo

Rachel Kawalazira, M.B.B.S., M.Sc.

Dr. Kawalazira has been a Principal Investigator since 2021 and Study Coordinator and Medical Officer since 2014 at the Johns Hopkins Research Project in Blantyre, Malawi. In that time, she worked on IMPAACT 2008, a study of monoclonal antibody VRC01 in infants with HIV under 3 months of age, and is currently serving as Study Coordinator for HVTN 805, an analytical treatment interruption study for HIV-infected individuals who participated in the AMP study (HVTN 703). She is serving as a local Principal Investigator on a phase 3 efficacy and safety trial of an oral PrEP drug called Islatravir. Dr. Kawalazira has a degree in Vaccinology and is focused on HIV vaccine research to improve the HIV burden in her setting and globally.

Mentor: Johnstone Kumwenda, M.B.Ch.B., M.Sc., F.R.C.P., Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (Formerly, College of Medicine under University of Malawi

Pamela Mda, smiling for a photo.

Pamela Mda, M.B.Ch.B., M.Med.

Dr. Mda has led the Nelson Mandela Academic Clinical Research Unit in Mthatha, South Africa since 2017. Dr. Mda’s leadership has enabled a strong research site in a remote, rural area of South Africa. At Mthatha, Dr. Mda revitalized the site and catalyzed successful trials, serving as investigator on HVTN 405, HVTN 702 (Uhambo) and HVTN 705 (Imbokodo). She is site PI for CoVPN studies including CoVPN 5001 and 3008. Dr. Mda is an expert clinician and played a major role in training health care workers for ART rollout in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, and has continued as a leader in Covid-19 education, prevention, and vaccination in her region. She also contributes as a clinician educator for the medical students and medical officers at Walter Sisulu University/Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital.

Mentor: Glenda Gray: M.B.B.CH., F.C.Paed., D.Sc., President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council

Deborah Theodore, smiling for a photo.

Deborah Theodore, M.D.

Dr. Theodore has been a site investigator at the Columbia Physicians & Surgeons Clinical Research Site in New York City since 2018. She has investigator experience supporting multiple HVTN protocols, including HVTN 115, 122, 127, 130, 136, 137, and more recently for HVTN 706 (Mosaico). In addition, she has a role leading community engagement and recruitment efforts for the CRS. Dr. Theodore has also supported Covid-19 studies including CoVPN 3002, CoVPN 5002, and the Phase 2/3 Sanofi Covid-19 vaccine study VAT00002. She is a mentor to medical students, Internal Medicine interns and residents, and Infectious Diseases fellows at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Mentor:  Magda Sobieszczyk, M.D., M.P.H., Harold C. Neu Professor of Infectious Diseases (in Medicine) at the Columbia University Medical Center

To learn more about applying for the program for yourself or a mentee, email me at

Dr. Alison Roxby is the Director of Scientific Mentoring for the HVTN, and Associate Professor, Departments of Medicine and Global Health at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA.