Innovation for a Cure: Social Learning in the National Cancer Institute’s Vaccine Programs
Institutional models that dominate contemporary discussions of innovation policy presuppose that government plays an indirect and decentralized role in supporting enterprise in academia and industry. Such a focus has led sociologists to overlook instructive exemplars of government institutes that directly lead scientific innovation. Drawing upon archival sources and interview data, my book illustrates how scientific innovation in the intramural virus-cancer vaccine programs of the federal National Cancer Institute (NCI) has been transformative of scientific progress, public policy, and the U.S. economy since the Cold War. In this talk, I present the theoretical framework I have developed, using insights from STS and pragmatist sociological theory, for analyzing innovation as an environed social learning process. I apply this framework to study HPV vaccine innovations in the NCI as emerging from actors’ transformative engagements with their social and material environments. This case offers an instructive lesson for how to approach the network failures that make the U.S.’s laissez-faire approach to biomedical research and development within the “triple helix” of government, academy, and industry so inefficient at redressing health disparities through innovation.
Natalie B. Avilesis a Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology at Colby College. She earned a Ph.D. in Sociology and Science Studies from the University of California, San Diego in 2016. Her research applies pragmatist sociological theory to study the emergence of scientific, technological, and organizational innovation around cancer-virus vaccine collaborations.