Pooling knowledge from around the world might help win the fight against tuberculosis (Image: ZEISS Microscopy)
“Open to the world!” shouts the brochure, proclaiming the headline message of Horizon 2020: the new €80 billion, seven-year European research initiative. One of Horizon 2020’s principal endeavours has been the massive drive for research that features collaborations between a range of countries beyond just Europe
However, to the researcher seeking to bid for funding the idea of engaging the world in their research project can seem like a daunting task.
One such researcher who has fully embraced the global sentiment of Horizon 2020 is Dr Rajko Reljic of St George’s, University of London. He is leading a project entitled ‘Eliciting Mucosal Immunity in Tuberculosis’ (EMI-TB).
The EMI-TB study aims to develop potential vaccine candidates that would be ready for clinical trials by the end of the project. The team envisages that, initially, their vaccine would be complementary to the existing BCG tuberculosis vaccine, improving an individual’s immunity and resilience to the disease in more contexts, globally. They hope that the research will eventually lead to a vaccine that supersedes the BCG.
The EMI-TB was in response to a call in Horizon 2020’s Societal Challenge pillar, on health, demographic change and wellbeing (see below).
Reljic’s project involves an impressive collaboration of 14 organisations across academia, industry and government departments, in seven different countries, including Mozambique.
This kind of international research partnership is what Horizon 2020 strives for, but is often easier said than done.
When asked how he formed the collaboration with colleagues at the Instituto Nacional de Saúde (National Institute of Health, Mozambique), Reljic explained it had happened organically. A Swedish research collaborator, already on board with the project, had previously worked with the group in Mozambique and recommended Reljic get in touch.
After an initial phonecall with the Mozambican team, it quickly became clear to Reljic that there were significant mutual benefits to a working partnership.
The nature of the challenge in tuberculosis (TB) research is the global prevalence of the disease and that different populations are affected to different extents. Reljic explained that one hypothesis suggests populations around the world can have different immune responses depending on what they are exposed to in their environments. As a result, vaccines that work on people in the UK, might not be as effective in other places.
Consequently, a perspective from a country like Mozambique, where TB is still common, can teach us more on how the bacteria act and therefore the best methods to tackle them.
Reljic is determined that the logistics of his international collaboration “are not overwhelmingly difficult”. There have been challenges along the way, such as finding out that the procurement policy for chemicals and reagents for his Mozambican colleagues operates on very different timescales to those in Europe. But Reljic gamely insists that “if you’re serious about involving these countries meaningfully we need to accommodate these challenges”.
The project was awarded its funding in late 2014, as part of the first group of Horizon 2020 calls. EMI-TB officially got underway in January 2015, and will have duration of four years.
Dr Reljic and the EMI-TB team (Image: Matthew Paul)
But what about scientists who aren’t lucky enough to already know ideal research partners on the other side of the world? To facilitate these kinds of collaborations Horizon 2020 has teams of National Contact Points who can assist with proposals. The UK team keeps in touch with its international counterparts, and is available to help if a partner outside of Europe doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
As the UK’s informal National Contact Point for International Cooperation, UKCDS has been following the development of Horizon 2020 calls with great interest. Stories like Dr Reljic’s demonstrate how these major initiatives are providing opportunities for truly international research partnerships.
For more information about Dr Reljic’s project, see the official EMI-TB website. For all of the upcoming Horizon 2020 calls which suggest international cooperation, see our database.