Systematic reviews require expert reviewers to manually screen thousands of citations in order to identify all relevant articles to the review. Active learning text classification is a supervised machine learning approach that has been shown to significantly reduce the manual annotation workload by semi-automating the citation screening process of systematic reviews. In this paper, we present a new topic detection method that induces an informative representation of studies, to improve the performance of the underlying active learner. Our proposed topic detection method uses a neural network-based vector space model to capture semantic similarities between documents. We firstly represent documents within the vector space, and cluster the documents into a predefined number of clusters. The centroids of the clusters are treated as latent topics. We then represent each document as a mixture of latent topics. For evaluation purposes, we employ the active learning strategy using both our novel topic detection method and a baseline topic model (i.e., Latent Dirichlet Allocation). Results obtained demonstrate that our method is able to achieve a high sensitivity of eligible studies and a significantly reduced manual annotation cost when compared to the baseline method. This observation is consistent across two clinical and three public health reviews. The tool introduced in this work is available from https://nactem.ac.uk/pvtopic/.