History and background

The collaboration between the different centres began in 1984 when the University Hospital Zurich (Ruedi Lüthy and Markus Vogt) organized the HTLV-III (now HIV-1) testing of Swiss patients with a suspected GRID-Syndrome (Gay-Related-Immunodeficiency Syndrome, now AIDS) and of persons at risk by collecting and shipping serum specimens to the laboratory of Robert Gallo at the National Cancer Institute in the US.

There, a Swiss Postdoc named Jörg Schüpbach took care of the analyses. Later, after his return back to Switzerland, Jörg Schüpbach became the Head of the Swiss Reference Laboratory for HIV.

In 1985, the first commercial HIV tests became available and the laboratories and clinics from the 5 University Hospitals were mandated and paid by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) to react to the upcoming epidemic. During these first years, several clinics began to collect epidemiological data on patients with HIV and standardized their data collection.

In 1987, the first antiretroviral drug AZT (Azidothymidine, Retrovir®) became available and the Federal Office for Social Insurance decided to limit the prescription of AZT to the network of the 5 University clinics that had just began to coordinate their data collection. These clinics documented the long-term experience with this new drug in the so-called AZT-PMS (Azidothymidine Post-Marketing Surveillance) integrated in the database of the SHCS.

FOPH Director Beat Roos and Vice-Director Bertino Somaini continued the support of these partners based on the "Federal Law on Transmissible Diseases" with 10 individual contracts for the 5 laboratories and 5 clinics.

In 1988, they took the farsighted decision to combine these 10 contracts into one and have the 10 partners to decide on the governance of the project and distribution of funds. Mr. Lorenzetti from the FOPH was then in charge to establish this new contract and support the new SHCS in building a Coordination and Data Centre in Zurich which was led by Bruno Ledergerber from 1988 until 1995.

Approximately in 1992, the Federal Council established the KKAF (Kommission zur Koordination der AIDS-Forschung in der Schweiz) which took care of reviewing and funding the different projects of AIDS research until 2000 when the Swiss National Science Foundation took over.

The president of the SHCS during these initial years was Prof. Ruedi Lüthy from Zurich and the SHCS had a Program A (for HIV positive people, lead Prof. Ruedi Lüthy) and a Program B (for people at risk, under the lead of Prof. Felix Gutzwiller). The program B was abandoned during the reorganization of 1995, which was decided during a 2-day retreat organized by Mme Roubaty from the FOPH with the help of a professional moderator Dr. Schnyder. The trigger for the reorganization was the renunciation of Prof. Ruedi Lüthy as chair of the SHCS.

Prof. Patrick Francioli from Lausanne was elected as new chair and the SHCS gave itself a new governance structure with emphasis on small nested research projects to stimulate publication-output which was rather small until then. Of note, half of the entire budget which was used for infrastructure before the reorganization was and is, until these days, dedicated to small nested research projects, forcing the clinics and laboratories to come up with innovative research ideas and to publish the results. During this reorganization, the Coordination and Data Centre was moved to Lausanne where the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois offered very favourable conditions regarding infrastructure and IT-support.