Dominique Costagliola, 2020 Grand Prize

Leading AIDS specialist and deputy director of the Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health (iPLESP)*, Dominique Costagliola has been at the front line of the war on COVID since January 2020. With one objective: use her expertise to further research. It is in honor of her work and that of her team that Inserm has awarded her this year’s Grand Prize.

Dominique Costagliola © Inserm/François Guénet
Dominique Costagliola © Inserm/François Guénet

Hired by Inserm in 1982, Dominique Costagliola began her HIV research in 1986 at the start of the AIDS epidemic, saddened by a « virus that took people who were often younger than [her] » [she was 32 at the time]. A recipient of the Inserm Research Prize in 2013, her work has played a major role in pushing back HIV, improving knowledge of the hidden parameters of the epidemic (incidence, mother-to-child transmission, incubation time…), antiretroviral treatment strategies and prevention of infection. « In the 1980s and 1990s, Inserm granted large amounts of funding to its laboratories, she recalls. Being part of that was decisive for testing – and confirming! – some unlikely hypotheses. Such as the idea that mother-to-child transmission occurred not at the start of pregnancy but during the final weeks, or when giving birth. »

Expertise crucial to understanding infections

Biostatistics, epidemiology, public health, drug evaluation…: over the years, Costagliola, who is due to retire in September 2021 and « determined to achieve emeritus status », has developed expertise in various domains decisive to understanding HIV… and infections more generally. Therefore, it came as no great surprise that the Inserm REACTing consortium, tasked with coordinating research during epidemic periods, called on her in January 2020 to reinforce its COVID-19 scientific committee. « Its missions: identify priority research activities; evaluate applications for project funding; prioritize anti-COVID therapeutic approaches... », she explains.

But that is not all! The Inserm research director has also evaluated COVID-19 research projects for other structures (French hospital clinical research program [PHRC], French National Research Agency [ANR] …) and other countries (Belgium, Germany...), co-chaired the scientific advisory board of the Epicov epidemiological study, and taken joint responsibility for one of the four components of the EU-Response project.

Her iPLESP colleagues all at the front line

« The teams from my laboratory, iPLESP, are also very actively involved in COVID-19 research », she stresses, citing « Vittoria Colizza and Pierre-Yves Boëlle’s team, which back in January proposed a model suggesting a high risk of importing the epidemic into Europe from China ». Or « the epidemiological study Sapris, set up by Inserm in order to better understand the epidemic and which is jointly coordinated by iPLESP director Fabrice Carrat ».

Parmi les chercheurs de l’iPLESP, de gauche à droite : Vittoria Colizza, David Hajage, Maria Melchior et Fabrice Carrat © Inserm/François Guénet
Among the iPLESP researchers, from left to right: Vittoria Colizza, David Hajage, Maria Melchior and Fabrice Carrat © Inserm/François Guénet

« Although HIV had also generated extensive research efforts, it didn’t lead to lockdown for the entire population. » So that is why we need to « work without limits, increasingly harder and better each day. It’s our only means of restoring a life without COVID-19 for everyone ». Her hope: that research focuses more on preventing the infection and not just on its treatments.

* Unit 1136 Inserm/Sorbonne Université, Pierre Louis Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health (iPLESP), Paris