Canadian HIV scientist wins inaugural $1.5 million Avenir Award from US National Institute on Drug Abuse, is named Director of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy

published on July 3, 2015

Dr. Dan Werb will lead an international scientific collaboration to prevent injection drug use and optimize illicit drug policies

Toronto, Canada (July 3, 2015) – Dan Werb, PhD and Research Scientist with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), has been named one of four inaugural recipients of the Avenir Award, a prestigious USD$1.5 million research grant from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that supports cutting edge research on HIV and substance abuse. Dr. Werb will undertake this research in the Division of Global Public Health at the University of California, San Diego. In a related move, Dr. Werb has also been named the Director of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), where he will lead the organization’s efforts to improve addictions policy in Canada and internationally. The ICSDP is based at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

A prestigious HIV research award for “tomorrow’s leaders in the field”

The Avenir Award Program for Research on Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS is reserved for creative new scientists proposing high impact research studies at the nexus of substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the award is granted to researchers who show promise of being tomorrow’s leaders in the field. Dr. Werb is one of four inaugural winners (

Dr. Werb’s innovative project is dubbed PRIMER, “Preventing Injecting by Modifying Existing Responses.” This project is the first to extend the HIV Treatment as Prevention (TasP) model – pioneered by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) – in order to control the spread of addictive behaviours like injection drug use. Like TasP, PRIMER will attempt to control the spread of addiction by harnessing the power of existing public health interventions. Specifically, over five years, PRIMER will test ways of preventing injection drug use by using programs like methadone maintenance therapy and supervised injection sites. By engaging more people who inject drugs in these programs, it is hypothesized that fewer new individuals will be introduced to, and ultimately begin experimenting with, injection drugs. PRIMER will be carried out by an international team of researchers across six cities (Vancouver, Canada; San Diego, USA; Tijuana, Mexico; Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux, France).

“I am thrilled Dr. Werb will be extending the work that we have started with TasP,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, past President of the International AIDS Society and Director of the BC-CfE. “We have demonstrated HIV epidemics can be controlled by expanding immediate and universal treatment coverage to those infected. Dr. Werb’s approach, which adapts this premise to socially communicable conditions like addiction, is highly innovative and represents the future of drug abuse prevention.”

The ICSDP: A global network of scientists working towards evidence-based illicit drug policies

In his role as Director and Scientific Chair of the ICSDP, Dr. Werb will continue the organization’s mission of working with policymakers and other stakeholders to improve the effectiveness of policy responses to addiction. The ICSDP, overseen by a Scientific Board of global scientific leaders in HIV and addictions, has a track record of high impact peer-reviewed research and international public education campaigns such as the Vienna Declaration.

“Dr. Werb’s prevention and policy work has had an outsized impact on the scientific understanding of the intersecting epidemics of drug addiction and HIV,” said Dr. Steffanie Strathdee, ICSDP Scientific Board Member and Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, where Dr. Werb is being recruited as an Assistant Professor. “As principal investigator of the PRIMER study and Director of the ICSDP, Dr. Werb has a real opportunity to transform our society’s approach to preventing the dual harms of addictions and HIV.”

“For too long, the goals of preventing addiction have seemed at odds with efforts to treat this condition,” said Dr. Werb. “It is my hope that over the coming years we will demonstrate treating the harms of addiction is, in fact, not only compatible with prevention aims but is actually an effective way of preventing the spread of addiction across populations. Through PRIMER, I believe we will be able to identify ways to prevent the spread of addiction. And through the ICSDP, we will be able to take this evidence and support governments to develop more effective policy responses to addictions.”

Dr. Werb is a 2012 Trudeau Foundation Scholar, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellow, and winner of a 2014 National Magazine Award for his general interest scientific writing on preventing injection drug use (


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About the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy
The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) is a network of scientists and academics from all global hemispheres committed to improving the health and safety of communities and individuals affected by illicit drugs by working to inform illicit drug policies with the best available scientific evidence. With the oversight of a Scientific Board made up of leading experts on addictions, HIV, and drug policy, the ICSDP conducts research and public education on best practices in drug policy. This work is undertaken in collaboration with communities, policy makers, law enforcement and other stakeholders to help guide effective and evidence-based policy responses to the many problems posed by illicit drugs.

About the Division of Global Public Health at the University of California, San Diego
The Division of Global Public Health (GPH) at the University of California, San Diego is a world-renowned research center promoting research, teaching and service based on the principles of social justice and health equity. GPH also promotes the development of equal binational partnerships with UCSD, other academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. The mission of the Division of Global Public Health includes conducting high-caliber research to improve health and access to health services among vulnerable populations globally and inform policy, and the reduction of the health impact of social inequalities related to poverty, migration, gender and race/ethnicity.

About The Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute
The Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s is home to leading researchers, educators, and clinicians “Ó dedicated professionals making new scientific discoveries, generating novel therapies, developing innovative training programs, and helping translate knowledge into practice. Comprising the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute fosters an environment in which inter-professional teams collaborate to bring established best practices and research discoveries to patient bedsides faster than ever before. The Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute seeks to advance understanding of the underlying causes of disease, improve patient care, and influence health policy. The Institute develops and studies new methods of education and research to improve the health of patients and populations, both locally and globally.