Mapping the coevolution, leadership and financing of research on viral vectors, RNAi, CRSPR/Cas9 and other genomic editing technologies

David Fajardo Ortiz, Annie Shattuck, Stefan Hornbostel


In the present investigation, we set out to determine and compare the evolution of the research on viral vectors, RNAi and genomic editing platforms as well as determine the profile of the main research institutions and funding agencies. A search of papers on viral vectors RNAi, CRISPR/Cas, TALENs, ZFNs and meganucleases was carried out in the Web of Science. A citation network of 16,746 papers was constructed. An analysis of network clustering combined with text mining was performed. In the case of viral vectors a long term process of incremental innovation in which the clusters of papers are organized around specific improvements of clinical relevance was identified. The most influential investigations on viral vectors were conducted in the United States and the European Union where the main funders were government agencies. The trajectory of RNAi research included clusters related to the study of RNAi as a biological phenomenon and its use in functional genomics, biomedicine and pest control. A British philanthropic organization and a US pharmaceutical company played a key role in the development of basic RNAi research and clinical application respectively, in addition to government agencies and academic institutions. In the case of CRISPR/Cas research, basic science discoveries led to the development of technical improvements, and these two in turn provided the information required for the development of biomedical, agricultural, livestock and industrial applications. The trajectory of CRISPR/Cas research exhibits a geopolitical division of the investigation efforts between the US, as the main producer of basic research and technical improvements, and China increasingly leading the applied research. A set of philanthropic foundations played a key role in specific stages of the CRISPR/Cas research. Our results reflect a change in the model in the financing of science and the emergence of China as a scientific superpower, with implications for the trajectory of development for applications of genomic technologies.