Our history

The Kirby Institute was established in 1986 in response to the then emerging HIV epidemic. Three decades on, our armoury of weapons in the ongoing war against infectious diseases, blood-borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections is substantial.

The many lessons from early HIV research, in particular the use of combination therapy, have been translated into many other disease fields, including viral hepatitis. Once HIV had evolved from a terminal diagnosis to a chronic manageable condition, the scope for the Kirby also broadened to wider issues.

Learn more about our history from our 30 Years Strong legacy brochure.

These are just a few of our achievements over the last 30 years:

 

1980s

 

  • 1983: Formation of the Sydney AIDS Study Group by David Cooper and Julian Gold, begins the Sydney AIDS Prospective Study (SAPS). SAPS will go on to provide the largest body of prospectively collected data on sexual behaviour in gay men in Australia.

  • 1986: Three research centres are established by the Australian Government in response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS. David Cooper is appointed the inaugural director of the centre in Sydney, initially called the NHMRC Special Unit in AIDS Epidemiology and Clinical Research. The Special Unit conducts the first study of HIV seroprevalence among people who inject drugs and develops a technique to screen returned syringes for HIV antibodies.

  • 1989: The (first) National HIV/AIDS Strategy is adopted and establishes a network of collaboration with health departments and other health organisations nationally. To reflect its expanded role under the Strategy, the NHMRC Special Unit is renamed the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR). We conduct the first national study of HIV prevalence in babies born 1988 – 1989 and find no cases of HIV infection among 10,000 live births.

 

1990s

 

  • 1990: The Australian National Council on AIDS (ANCA) convenes a Working Party on the Availability of HIV/AIDS Treatments, chaired by Peter McDonald. The final report in late 1990s leads to increased Commonwealth funding to expand the clinical trial infrastructure. The Clinical Trials and Treatments Advisory Committee (CTTAC) is formed to advise our management committee. It is a major collaboration between HIV specialists, clinical trials experts, general practitioners and community organisations.

  • 1991: A review of the drug evaluation process in Australia, a then-complex approvals process believed to cause delay in potential HIV treatments, leads to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) introducing a Clinical Trials Notification Scheme. Collaboration is established with the Australian Red Cross blood transfusion service, which routinely tests blood donations; with the Australian Defence Force which at this time tests all personnel; and with Departments of Corrections in all states which test prison entrants at this time.

  • 1993: Using data from the National AIDS Registry, the first major analysis of AIDS incidence in Australia 1982 – 1992 is published. Cumulative HIV incidence to the end of 1993 is estimated at approximately 15,200. AIDS incidence is estimated to plateau at approximately 850 cases in 1995.

  • 1995: The Delta study reports on the benefits of combination therapy. Survival of people who are treatment-naïve is significantly better with combination therapy, with an estimated reduction in mortality of 38%.

  • The evidence is now decisive that the use of at least two antiretroviral drugs in combination must be the recommended treatment. David Cooper declares that 1995 marks a turning point in HIV clinical trials.

  • 1996: The HIV-NAT program begins in Bangkok. The collaboration between colleagues from Thailand, Australia and the Netherlands (N, A and T of HIV-NAT) provides for the transfer of skills and infrastructure, while conducting clinical trials of HIV treatments.

  • 1998: A report based on work by the Hepatitis C Projections Working Group is published, giving an alarming indication of the extent of hepatitis C in Australia. By the end of 1997, there were an estimated 196,000 people living with the virus in Australia, with 11,000 new infections that year. 

  • 1999: The Australian HIV Observational Database (AHOD) is established, starting in June, using a number of hospital and primary care sites nationally. It looks at treatment uptake and outcomes, and will provide information on patterns of use of ART.

 

2000s

 

  • 2000: This year’s surveillance report shows, for the first time in a decade, an increase in survival following an AIDS diagnosis, but also a lower than expected impact of preventive interventions for mother-to-child HIV transmission. AIDS diagnoses have dropped 85 percent in the past six years, from 955 cases in 1994 to 147 cases in 1999.

  • 2003: Enrolment into the first clinical trial in viral hepatitis, HEPCOG, began in 2003. The study examined the natural history of acute hepatitis C infection and the use of pegylated interferon for the treatment of acute hepatitis C among people who inject drugs.

  • 2005: Involvement with research partners continues strongly in Thailand and Cambodia through in-country placements. We provide technical support to the TREAT Asia network, sponsored by amfAR.

  • 2006: This marks the twentieth year of our operations. It is also the tenth year of publication of the Annual Surveillance Report.

  • The most significant international trial to which we are contributing, SMART, was terminated prematurely in January due to increased mortality in the drug conserving or interruption arm, which showed twice the risk of disease progression.

  • 2008: Our research focus grows with the establishment of dedicated Sexual Health and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs.

  • 2009: We win a grant of $18 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support a research project with the potential to extend drug therapy to millions of HIV-affected people worldwide. The project, dubbed ENCORE, will study the effectiveness of optimised doses of HIV drug treatment.

  • We collaborate with the Universities of Melbourne, Adelaide and Western Australia on a program titled HIV and HCV Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis. The five-year grant begins in January 2009 and addresses the urgent global health priorities concerning the development of vaccines and better treatments for HIV and hepatitis C.

 

2010a

 

  • 2011: The National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research celebrates its 25th anniversary and changes its name to the Kirby Institute for infection and immunity in society.

  • Our research focus expands to include a program dedicated to Justice Health research. The first annual National Trachoma Surveillance Report, edited by the National Trachoma Surveillance and Reporting Unit, was produced in 2011. Australia is the only developed country where trachoma is still endemic.

  • 2013: The ENCORE-1 trial indicates that a reduction in daily dose of one third of the antiretroviral (ART) efavirenz, a commonly used treatment for HIV, is both safe and effective compared to the higher dose currently recommended.

  • We participate in the successful bid to establish the Centre for Research Excellence in Offender Health and are awarded $2.5m over five years to develop research capacity in Indigenous offender health research. 

  • 2014: The Kirby Institute launches a new initiative to increase HIV testing and uptake of treatment in Indonesia. The Test and Treat Indonesia study will evaluate a range of possible interventions among five key affected populations.

  • Kirby researchers lead a world-first study, to evaluate curative hepatitis C treatments as a means of preventing HCV spread within prisons. The SToP-C study will investigate whether a significant reduction in infections is possible with a “treatment as prevention” strategy.

  • 2015: The START study terminates early after interim results showed conclusively that immediate treatment of HIV infection is clinically superior to deferred treatment. The World Health Organisation goes on to change international treatment guidelines for HIV in support of early treatment. The guidelines signify a landmark change in the international response to HIV treatment and prevention.

  • The World Health Organisation releases new HIV treatment guidelines inspired by the outcome of the Kirby Institute’s ENCORE1 trial, endorsing a lower daily dose of efavirenz as a valid treatment option for people living with HIV.

  • A world-first study conducted in Fiji finds treatment of a whole community with ivermectin to virtually eliminate scabies, reducing prevalence by 94 per cent and providing new hope in the fight to control this debilitating disease. Results of the Skin Health Intervention Fiji Trial (SHIFT) are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

  • Kirby researchers join collaboration with 22 international institutions in a joint initiative to accelerate the search for an effective HIV vaccine. Funded by the European Commission, the European AIDS Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020) will bring together HIV researchers in Europe, Australia, Canada and the US in a focused effort to develop both protective and therapeutic vaccines.

  • A 20 year report on Needle and Syringe Program attendees in Australia shows the number of young Australians injecting drugs has declined over 20 years and transmission of HIV related to injecting drug use has been efficiently contained.

  • 2016: EPIC-NSW begins at Sydney’s Mardi Gras. This study is designed to target large numbers of vulnerable men and offer them PrEP with the long-term goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmission in NSW.

  • Our final report of the long-running Seroconversion Study has shown that earlier diagnosis and peer support for people newly diagnosed with HIV reduce the likelihood of onward transmission.

  • The Kirby Institute is awarded a major Cancer Institute NSW grant to develop a clinical trial program in cancers associated with HIV infection at St Vincent’s Hospital. An AIDS Malignancy Consortium clinical trial site is launched at the Kirby Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital, allowing Australian patients with HIV-associated cancers to access innovative trials of new therapies for the first time.

  • A new generation of hepatitis C cures are made available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes on 1 March. By July, Australia is leading the world in the treatment of hepatitis C, with the most rapid uptake of new treatments seen anywhere in the world, resulting in us curing more people with hepatitis C in 2016 than in the past twenty years of interferon-therapy.

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