Scientific view

Penta: a leader in tackling viral infections in children and in pregnancy – insights from Dr. Alasdair Bamford and Dr. Anna Turkova

15 Mar, 2024

In the landscape of child and maternal health research, HIV and other viral infections hold a significant position. Penta stands out for its unique approach to tackling these challenges. With a decades-long track record of groundbreaking work in paediatric HIV, Penta leverages this expertise to address a broader range of viral infections affecting children. 

In this article, Dr. Alasdair Bamford and Dr. Anna Turkova, both senior researchers at MRCCTU at University College London and Penta, offer valuable insights into Penta’s impactful strategies. They highlight the Network’s commitment to innovation, collaboration, and real-world impact, showcasing how Penta is making a significant difference in the lives of children and pregnant people globally.


Viral infections pose a significant threat to the health and wellbeing of mothers and their children, potentially resulting in various adverse health outcomes for both. Penta has a long history of innovative work in the field of paediatric HIV. Over the years we have built on this foundation to expand our scope to include other important viral infections.

In relation to HIV, Penta has co-ordinated numerous international trials investigating the best treatment strategies for children living with HIV and continues to do so, leading the way in determining optimal use of new drug formulations and providing key evidence for national programmes and guidelines. This work has been greatly enhanced by the input of young people living with HIV (e.g. through the Youth Trials Board), leading to wide-ranging benefits in areas such as research communication and results dissemination, and clinical and research training.

Penta clinical trials go hand in hand with international cohort studies providing real world data evidence which is being harnessed in increasingly innovative ways to answer key questions relating to determinants of HIV related health outcomes. Penta strives to make the most of information from such studies across a broad range of themes such as basic science, virology, immunology, pharmacology and implementation science.

PentaTr@ining courses, which include courses on HIV management, have enrolled hundreds of healthcare professionals around the world, integrating both online and face-to-face teaching methods to deliver up to date training tailored to delegates’ varied needs in high-, middle- and low-income settings. Alongside this, the Penta HIV treatment guidelines have provided evidence-based guidance to teams caring for women and children living with HIV. Ongoing collaboration with organisations such as the WHO ensures that Penta contributes to strategies aimed at accelerating access to key new drugs and formulations for children across the globe, as well as promoting the inclusion of children and pregnant and breastfeeding women in clinical trials.

In more recent years, Penta has expanded its focus to include other viral infections affecting pregnant people and children. Working to similar principles to those described above, the reach of the Network has broadened to include other bloodborne viruses such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, including activities such as establishment of new cohorts, contribution to international guidelines and roll-out of new training courses.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is another infection with a major impact on maternal and infant health and through ongoing collaboration with other networks, Penta is in a strong position to apply lessons learned from HIV studies to the challenge of preventing and treating congenital CMV. Furthermore, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes potentially devastating respiratory disease in young children and work in this area has become a high priority for the Network, with trials of novel treatment and prevention strategies in the pipeline. The role of monoclonal antibodies and vaccinations for both prevention and treatment of a range of viral infections is also a crucial area of future work for Penta and its partners.

These are just some of the ways that Penta contributes to the work of optimising maternal and child health. By combining innovative research methods, strong collaborations, and a commitment to real-world impact, Penta stands out as one of the leading collaborations in addressing the challenges of viral infections in children.