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Meet Rebecca Clark

On a regular basis, we will be profiling a member of the Vaccine Centre. In this edition we are shining a spotlight on Rebecca Clark who tells us about her research on TB vaccines, how being a member of the Vaccine Centre can drive impactful research outcomes and how far she has gotten with her epic challenge of visiting 500 unique pubs in five years.
Rebecca Clark at her graduation

Tell us about your current research

I am a Research Fellow in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Dynamics. I am working in the TB Modelling group (where I just finished my PhD!) and my research is primarily focussed on modelling the health and economic impacts of new TB vaccines, as well as looking at the impacts of some additional risk factors, such as undernutrition. There are numerous vaccine candidates in late-stage trials, and the goal is to introduce a new TB vaccine as soon as possible (ideally by 2030). When a vaccine is licensed, it is important that is it introduced and scaled-up as quickly and efficiently as possible to maximise impact on reducing cases and deaths.

Mathematical modelling is particularly useful in these situations to evaluate multiple vaccine introduction scenarios. We can rapidly consider many characteristics that policy makers will be interested in, including the impact of prioritising vaccine delivery by age and risk group. We have found that a vaccine that is effective in preventing TB disease in adolescents and adults could help prevent millions of cases and deaths over the next few decades and would be cost-effective, particularly in countries with the highest burden.

How did you first become interested in vaccines?

Throughout school, I became fascinated with diseases and epidemiology, and I was particularly interested in the pivotal role that vaccines played in eradicating diseases like smallpox and reducing the burden of disease globally of others such as polio and measles. Observing how vaccines protect public health motivated me to research them further. I believe that prevention is better than treatment, as in TB, we know that even with successful treatment completion, there are many lasting effects due to the disease and the treatment itself. Preventing the disease from ever developing, through the introduction of an effective vaccine, could help to prevent the lasting morbidity and mortality.

Why did you decide to join the Vaccine Centre?

I have been at LSHTM since 2019 and joined the Vaccine Centre as a member right away! I really enjoyed the various seminars highlighting ongoing vaccine research at LSHTM and in the wider vaccine research community.

I did not get involved directly in the management committee until I attended the Vaccine Centre retreat in 2022. The daylong event was a great chance to get together as a centre, hear presentations from senior members in the field, and discuss key concepts in vaccine research. During some of the afternoon discussions, I became keen to become more involved in organising the sessions and contributing to the strategic planning of the Vaccine Centre's activities. Since then, I've been actively involved in coordinating seminars and innovative approaches to address pressing challenges in the field. I'm grateful for the opportunity to play a role in advancing the mission of the Vaccine Centre.

What do you find particularly interesting working as a member of the Vaccine Centre?

I enjoy that the Vaccine Centre brings together researchers that all work on different areas of vaccines together. While I focus on mathematical modelling of vaccines, it’s interesting to hear from those with other perspectives, such as those with a lab or qualitative focus. I think it’s great that we are all able to bring our various areas of expertise together to address complex challenges in vaccine research. The Vaccine Centre provides a great platform for networking and collaborations across disciplinary boundaries, which is crucial for driving impactful research outcomes and ultimately improving public health.

Where do you think your research will take you?

Ideally, I would like to continue in infectious disease research and TB vaccine modelling. I want to use and continue to develop my modelling skills to reduce the global burden of disease and help inform health policy makers during decision making. There are numerous areas for our models to continue to develop to provide evidence for decision-makers, particularly as upcoming Phase 3 trials generate more evidence on the efficacy and duration of new TB vaccine candidates. In addition, we are broadening our work to investigate the impact of interactions between vaccines and aspects such as undernutrition and climate change.

What are some of the real-life implications of your work?

Mathematical modelling of vaccines has many real-life policy implications, as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently working with both international organisations (such as WHO, the Gates Foundation, and NIH) and country-level decision makers to provide estimates of the impact of introducing new TB vaccines globally and locally, to both support the case for investment in new TB vaccines overall, as well as to investigate the intricacies of introducing in specific countries with varying epidemiological trends.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I want to stay in the UK (for as long as I can!) and continue to explore different areas of the country. I have set myself a challenge of trying to go to 500 unique pubs in the UK in 5 years! I have 6 months left, and I am currently on pub number 439, so most of my spare time is spent exploring pubs across the country. My progress is documented on Instagram (@mypubmap).

How can people get in touch with you?

Email: Rebecca.Clark@lshtm.ac.uk

Twitter / X: @ra_clark18

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