Avelino (Jun) Loquere is the site coordinator for the ICAP at Columbia University Clinical Trials Unit (ICAP CTU) in New York. He has more than 20 years of experience in HIV care, treatment, and prevention research. Jun has experience working on multiple DAIDS-funded HIV clinical trials through the CPCRA, INSIGHT, ACTG, HVTN, and HPTN networks. He was a member of the HPTN Performance Evaluation Committee and Behavioral Survey Working Group and a protocol team member of the HVTN 130/HPTN 089 study.
What attracted you to a career in HIV prevention research?
Initially, I just wanted to have some research experience to boost my application credentials for a U.S. medical residency training program. I applied at Harlem Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases under division chief Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr. The first study I was entrusted with coordinating was the SMART Study at the Harlem and Jacobi Hospital research sites. Not long after that, we did the HPTN 061 (BROTHERS) study at the newly opened ICAP Harlem Prevention Center, which became the largest cohort of U.S. Black men who have sex with men (MSM) to be followed in a study. Exploring new options such as better and more effective biomedical prevention tools is critical to bridging the gap in preventing HIV acquisition and reducing transmission.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the collaborative nature of research work the most. It takes a village to produce data to answer a question, from the clinical and research staff, data and lab staff, investigators, community education and outreach staff, our community partners, and most especially our study participants for their willingness to share their time and part of themselves to help us find answers to questions that benefit the whole. I also enjoy the continuous learning and mentorship opportunities from the most dedicated and passionate people.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
The accomplishment of overcoming a challenging goal, like operationalizing a complex study protocol at the site and bringing it to successful completion.
What has been one of your proudest moments as a member of the HPTN?
One of my proudest moments was with our team at Harlem Prevention Center conducting the HPTN 061 (BROTHERS) study. Despite being a newly opened HPTN site and all the operational delays and challenges the site has encountered, the site has shown that nothing is impossible if everyone works cohesively as a team, with dedication, hard work, and focus on a common goal. Harlem Prevention Center recruited and accrued 100 percent of the target goal in six months, received the HPTN Community Award for Excellence for Best Accrual Rate in 2010, and had an impressive retention rate after the study.
What has been the biggest challenge working in HIV prevention research?
Aside from the stigma of HIV and mistrust in research from potential participants, I think people were becoming complacent about HIV. With HIV becoming a chronic disease, thanks to effective treatment regimens, people believe HIV is no longer a serious health threat and do not recognize its risks. We must continuously educate our communities that HIV is still a serious health threat, and prevention is critical.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career? Why?
One of the most influential people in my career is Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr; without the opportunity, trust, and mentorship that has inspired me to work, lead, learn and appreciate clinical research, I would not be in this field today.
What inspires you?
What inspires me are people who do not let their age define what they can or cannot do, especially those who have already achieved a lot and continue to push for more.
What advice do you have for new HPTN members?
Always remember that you are part of a team; collaboration is critical as you work together to achieve a common goal. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure, always ask and seek guidance from your PIs, research managers from FHI, and protocol team members, as they are there to support you and your site. Also, network with your HPTN colleagues from other places; gaining a new perspective on their processes is helpful. Lastly, always seek to learn new things; every new study protocol is a learning process.