Dr. Anthony Ogwu

Anthony Ogwu
Dr. Anthony Ogwu, photo by Dave Clift

It’s hard to write a profile of someone who doesn’t complain, especially when that person encounters innumerable problems on a daily basis and has to solve them quickly and efficiently or important clinical trials will come screeching to a halt.Dr. Anthony Ogwu, Site Leader for the Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) in Gaborone, Botswana, has impossible days at work, but you’ll only find that out by asking other people. “The obstacles are endless, but he doesn’t get frazzled,” said Molly Pretorius-Holme, Senior Research Manager of the CTU. “He really doesn’t lose his cool,” agreed Dr. Shahin Lockman, who, along with Dr. Max Essex, leads the CTU. “Anthony’s patience is—I would actually call it fortitude—it’s beyond patience.”

The Botswana CTU is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). It’s part of an international network of CTUs spread across the globe to conduct HIV/AIDS research as quickly and efficiently as possible. Once the protocol of a trial is approved, it can be conducted at a number of international sites simultaneously, helping to answer pressing HIV/AIDS research questions as quickly as possible.

Ogwu is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Gaborone CTU, which conducts multiple clinical trials concurrently. Each new study has a different protocol to learn and follow. “For the Botswana CTU to remain in existence, we have to compete with other international sites across the world,” said Ogwu. “This requires a highly motivated staff.” He supervises study coordinators, physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, as well as the recruitment and retention staff who find eligible study participants for enrollment into the ongoing clinical trials at the site.

Besides being a seasoned project manager, Ogwu is also an experienced physician. “There are a lot of administrative things to do, but I still make as much time as possible to see patients,” he said. “When the wait is long, instead of keeping patients waiting, I go out there to help clear the lines.”

Ogwu works with other members of the leadership team to decide which future studies the Botswana CTU should participate in. Studies must be relevant to the local population. “Anthony has a great sense about which research trials are most important for Botswana,” said Essex. Ogwu is also involved in community engagement and mobilization to support current and future trials.

For any study to go forward, hundreds of items must be approved and aligned. Stakeholders include the NIH, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Botswana’s Ministry of Health, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) in Botswana and at Harvard, the community, research protocol teams, and potential study participants. Once the study is underway, there is quarterly monitoring to ensure that research is conducted under strict ethical and scientific standards. The fact that the Botswana CTU is so well regarded is due, in large part, to Ogwu’s contribution.

Ogwu (far right) in Mochudi, Botswana. In 2009, Harvard President Drew Faust (front center) visited the village where HAI conducts clinical trials. photo by Justin Ide/Harvard News Office
Ogwu (far right) in Mochudi, Botswana. In 2009, Harvard President Drew Faust (front center) visited the village where HAI conducts clinical trials. photo by Justin Ide/Harvard News Office

Nigeria to Botswana

Anthony Ogwu was born in the small Nigerian village of Idumu-ogo in the southwestern part of the country. One of six children, he was raised by his mother, a nurse who constantly stressed the importance of service and respecting all people. “She told me that putting others before yourself is always the right thing to do,” said Ogwu.

He earned his medical degrees in 2002 from the University of Benin in Nigeria. A few years later, an interest in HIV/AIDS led him to Botswana, a country at the forefront of AIDS care and research in Africa at that time.

In 2005, Ogwu began working at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership (BHP) as a study physician. He was quickly promoted and became the study coordinator for Lockman’s groundbreakingMashi Plus trial. Two years later, he coordinated the Mma Bana study led by Dr. Roger Shapiro.

While working, Ogwu also received his Master’s in Public Health from the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. His studies in health programs and research project management had broad applicability to his daily responsibilities working on high-profile clinical trials. In 2010, Ogwu spent six months at the Harvard School of Public Health as a John L. McGoldrick Fellow in Biostatistics.

PROMISE Trial

The Botswana CTU is part of the International Maternal Pediatric & Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Group (IMPAACT), which conducts multi-site, international studies on the health of HIV-infected mothers, adolescents and children. Ogwu is the Site Principal Investigator in Botswana.

To date, the largest and most ambitious trial for IMPAACT is what is known as the PROMISE study. Bots-wana is participating in the HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) Standard version of the PROMISE Trial, which will determine if women who start taking ARVs during pregnancy should keep taking them indefinitely after the pregnancy or stop.

Initially no African country was selected for this trial. It was limited to sites in the U.S., South America, and Asia, where HAART was already the standard of care for pregnant women. At the time the study was being planned, most African countries used one drug rather than a three-drug HAART regimen. Botswana was in the process of rolling out HAART for HIV-infected pregnant women. The Botswana team was able to convince the PROMISE protocol committee to allow Botswana to participate in this important trial. The success of previous trials, such as Mashi and Mma Bana, was one factor. Others were the country’s evolving standard of care and the relevance of the outcome to Botswana’s population.

A total of 2000 HIV-infected women at research sites in eight countries across three continents are expected to participate in this trial. Botswana, which began enrolling women in 2010, will enroll approximately 550 of them. The trial is ongoing. Results, which should provide important answers for national prevention programs for HIV+ mothers, are expected around 2016.

In the meantime, Dr. Anthony Ogwu will be hard at work, ensuring that the PROMISE Trial and other studies conducted by the Botswana CTU are held to the highest standards.

When not at work, Ogwu enjoys spending time with his wife and two young sons. He’s involved with his church as both a preacher and a Sunday school teacher. He also runs and plays chess.

“Anthony combines ethical integrity and superior clinical expertise with a research sense for what is most important,” said Essex. “I don’t know what we’d do without him.”

“I may not be able to change the whole world,” said Ogwu, “but I can make a difference where I am.”