Professor Thesla Palanee-Phillips, Director: Clinical Trials

Prof Thesla Palanee-Phillips is the Director for Clinical Trials at Wits RHI as well as Wits RHI Laboratory Director. She holds a Master’s degree in Medical Science cum laude, a PhD in Physiology/Biochemistry and a MSc in Clinical Trials (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom). She is a registered Medical Biological Scientist and holds a joint appointment at the University of the Witwatersrand. Prof Palanee-Phillips is the Wits RHI Research Centre Clinical Research Site (CRS) leader, a Senior Investigator in the NIH DAIDS funded US Microbicide Trials Network. She initiated and oversees the Wits HIV Research Group Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) Laboratory Oversight Group (LOG) and Regulatory Oversight Group (ROG) ensuring CTU wide compliance to laboratory and regulatory requirements at Wits RHI and CHRU (CTU partners). Her research has focused on biomedical HIV prevention with microbicides, vaginal rings, oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and contraception for the last 17 years. Her skillset includes designing and implementing clinical trials and investigator research driven research studies integrating complex laboratory components as well as qualitative, behavioral, and implementation science-framed questions into them. She has a particular focus on questions that bridge prevention with sexual/reproductive health, issues impacting adherence to HIV prevention interventions in the context of sexual violence and studies of interventions related to mitigation of risk for adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women (TGW).

Prof Palanee-Phillips has spearheaded a Laboratory expansion initiative that now includes Flow cytometry and GeneXpert ensuring tests are done on- site for real time resulting of STI and HIV VL results for timely management and referral of study participants.

She is the Principal investigator on MTN 034, a cross over design trial that is assessing acceptability of and adherence to oral truvada and the dapivirine vaginal ring in adolescent girls and young women. She is the Site Co-PI on two Gilead Phase 3 trials assessing Descovey, Lenacapavir and Truvada among AGYW and MSM/Transgender women. She is also the Site Co-PI on a Merck Phase 3 Trial involving monthly use of Islatravir for HIV prevention among MSM/TGW. In Sept 2020, she was awarded my first five year grant for a successful NIH R01 as PI. Finally, she is National coordinator for the WHO Solidarity COVID-19 treatment trial overseeing implementation at 15 Hospitals in South Africa.

Prof Palanee-Phillips is a Member of the SA DOH PrEP Technical Working Group, a member of the Initiative for MPTs Advisory Council, a member of the MTN Executive Committee and the MTN Network Evaluation Committee.