“It’s vital that products like Dimensions flourish and continue to pave the way for a better approach to ‘research on research’.”

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, and co-founder of RESIN
Clinical Informatics Research Unit, University of Southampton, UK

About the RESIN study

In essence the RESIN study began its journey around 2008, when Michael Head and Joseph Fitchett (now at Mologic) began to more formally study the infectious disease research landscape in the UK. At that point in time, the data was disjointed, missing or on paper: we were often pointed towards a hospital basement and were instructed that the “R&D records are in a filing cabinet in there!”.

We produced some early analyses of levels of funding for infection and these results were well received by UK stakeholders. This led to the RESIN study being formally launched, with numerous collaborators down the years — including Professor Rifat Atun of Harvard University. We’ve now published over 30 peer-reviewed papers, several reports, and have been invited to present our findings multiple times to the European Commission, Wellcome Trust and the WHO. 

Our biggest challenge to date

The key output so far has probably been the 2020 paper published in Lancet Global Health. We assessed $105 billion of funding related to infectious disease research. Our dataset consisted of funding from public and philanthropic providers, and was sourced from many directions over  the last 12 years. The original approach was to search the internet and ask as many colleagues as we knew what funders were making investments in this space. The next step was to download any openly available data on funder websites, or make a direct request. This was all very time consuming and labour intensive. 

How Dimensions accelerated our research process

The evolution of this ‘research on research’ field over the last decade has been extensive (and from our perspective, very welcome!). This has also been a time when Dimensions has  accelerated the electronic harmonization of so many funders from across the world, and as Dimensions improves and expands, this reduces our need to manually search for data. 

And so, with access to Dimensions, we were able to put together a huge global dataset of infectious disease research, covering 94,000 different awards, all individually labelled and categorized, across the time period of 2000 to 2017. 

We showed that infectious disease research funding has been in decline since about 2006, despite the regular emerging infectious disease threats posed  across the time period of our study. This includes the original SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the emergence of the Zika virus in South America. The funding here also stopped as quickly as it started – reactive rather than proactive, and when the world moves on, so does the funding. It’s not the best approach to global health, and the COVID-19 pandemic has, alas, proven that. 

Using data to drive future strategic thinking

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now a more urgent need than ever to ensure we are spending our research money in the best way possible. Where are the gaps in pandemic preparedness, and what diseases were hit the most by diverting funding from oncology, stroke and mental health research towards the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Decision-makers all around the world need to know where the knowledge gaps are going to be in the years to come. It is there that society will see the greatest impact upon patients. They need the best possible data to make the best decisions, and that is why RESIN and other analyses like ours will continue to be so important. It is also why it’s vital that products like Dimensions also flourish and continue to pave the way for a better approach to ‘research on ‘research’.

“We have limited resources to spend on research and generate new knowledge. We must invest wisely”

Would you like to learn about how Dimensions can support research within your organization? Get in touch and one of our experts would be happy to speak to you.