Mapping the European TB Vaccine Research Network: Actors, Structures and Collaboration
School of Social and Political Sciences The University of Melbourne Parkville, Victoria, Australia
Scientists developed the original vaccine against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) in the first half of the 20th Century. Yet the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year 30 million people are infected with TB, 8 million develop the active disease and 2 million people die. The only vaccine for TB, BCG, was developed in the 1920s and has limited effectiveness if administered later than childhood, in particular geographic regions and against particular forms of TB infection. This inconsistent performance is particularly concerning considering the emergence of drug-resistant strains of TB in the last two decades.
It is arguable that the greatest long term impact on tuberculosis prevalence would come from the development of a new, single-dose, reliable and affordable vaccine. However, in recent decades scientific research in this area has been limited. The reasons for this situation are complex, though most can be attributed to social and economic inequality. Nevertheless, the continuing global health burden from TB and the increase of resistant strains has led to a gradual increase in scientific research into TB prevention and treatment.
This paper explores the actors and structures involved with TB vaccine research in Europe. Following on from recent pioneering studies in the U.S., this paper collates publicly available data, including journal article co-authorship, research organisation websites and the WHO clinical trial database. Social network analysis (SNA) methods are used to analyse the data and construct a visual representation of the European TB vaccine network.
Mapping the TB research network is significant as it has not been done before. It has also been suggested that greater coordination of research activities and information sharing amongst scientists pursuing innovations for neglected diseases is needed. Practical resources to achieve this level of coordination, such as a website or publicly accessible database, informed by studies such as this, will help maximise the return on investment from research funding. The findings of this paper also have policy implications in that they provide insight into national and cross-border collaborative patterns as well as the relative centrality of particular precincts and states in the European TB vaccine research network.