Richard Cowling and Glenda Gray

Prof Richard Cowling
Distinguished Professor Richard Cowling is a respected academic parexcellence, an exemplary champion of biodiversity conservation, a phenomenal mentor and an inspiration and friend to many. Richard’s internationally recognised research in the fields of plant diversity and evolution, conservation science, restoration ecology and paleoecology, has been ground-breaking and significant, not only contributing to theory, but firmly embedded in practice. His well-recognised body of work, that includes over 400 peer-reviewed contributions, including many in top journals and a feature on ISI’s 250 most highly cited researchers in Ecology & Environment (2005) has led to global recognition. Amongst other accolades, he has an NRF A-rating spanning five evaluation
periods from 1998-2021 and he was elected as a Foreign Member to the USA National Academy of Sciences – of only nine South Africans to receive such an honour. Such impact, while globally relevant, has remained true to its core purpose – having had a profound influence on the protection of South Africa’s exceptionally rich biological diversity. Throughout his career, Richard has competently reached out beyond academia to influence conservation practice and policy, with tangible and long-term benefits to our society. In the realms of sustainable land use planning and protected area expansion, he was influential in the establishment of numerous protected areas, and he has played a fundamental role in several large-scale landscape initiatives. His concern over degraded landscapes and work on Restoration Ecology helped the formation of the EPWP Working for Water programme, in 1995 – resulting in the protection of increasingly threatened & scarce water supplies across our biodiversity rich landscapes. Richard is a respected and beloved leader with a cause; his dedication and integrity will continue to inspire hope for our South African landscapes and its people well into the future.

Prof Glenda Gray
Prof Glenda Gray, the first female President of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), is an NRF A-rated scientist, appointed as a Professor of Paediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand and Professor at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division of the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center. Her clinical research career began in the field of preventing mother- to-child transmission of HIV-1, focusing on breastfeeding transmission and post-exposure prophylaxis with important contributions to clinical guidelines on the management of post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent breastmilk transmission. For the past two decades, she has focused on HIV vaccine development, leading major phase 2b/3 trials of candidate vaccines in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as contributing to the clinical development of South Africa’s own HIV vaccines. She is the Co-PI of the NIH[1]funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network, that conducts over 80% of the clinical trials of candidate HIV vaccines globally, operating in the US, the Americas, and sub-Saharan Africa. She has influenced the marked change in the HIV vaccine field from a US/Euro-centric based scientific programme, to having almost all candidate vaccines designed for the Southern African epidemic and all the critical immunogenicity trials and efficacy trials conducted in this region. Having co-founded the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, PHRU has developed into a world-renowned research unit focused on HIV prevention and treatment. During COVID-19, Prof Gray set the SAMRC research strategy for COVID-19, enabling South Africa to emerge as a global scientific leader on COVID-19 vaccines. She was the international co-chair for the multi-country Ad26 COVID-19 vaccine study which led to its emergency use and later licensure worldwide. Most importantly, this study allowed her to extend this collaboration to initiate and lead the Sisonke Study in South Africa, to date, the largest study of a COVID-19 vaccine. South Africa vaccinated almost 500,000 healthcare workers as an urgent intervention when the country’s national vaccine roll-out faltered. Her team provided real world effectiveness (RWE) results for South Africa for the Beta, Delta and Omicron variants of concern, and prevented deaths and hospitalisations amongst healthcare workers. The team was able to boost healthcare workers with either a second dose of the Ad26 vaccine or Pfizer mRNA vaccine and were able to demonstrate RWE and durability against severe disease including death. 22 Academy of Science of South Africa Besides her personal research interests, her position as President and CEO of the SAMRC has afforded her the opportunity to influence a larger palette of activities in both research and capacity development: establishing the first whole genome sequence platform in Africa; supporting the expansion of genomic and wastewater surveillance of COVID-19 in the country; facilitating a R100m grant from the Chan Soon-Shiong Foundation to develop vaccine capability. Under her leadership at the SAMRC, the number of Black African scientists and women to receive grants and awards have increased. In conclusion, Prof Glenda Gray has made an enormous contribution to the advancement of health in South Africa and globally. She is an inspirational leader – combining substantial intellectual and scientific skills with immense integrity and an abiding passion to improve the lives of others. As one of the most accomplished scientists of her generation, she has played a remarkable role in advancing progress against infectious and other diseases. She is truly a “national treasure” in the words of Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, a prominent South African HIV/AIDS researcher.