Sarah Richardson, Group Editor, Research Professional News
Universities and research institutes around the world are joining forces in the fight against the spread of coronavirus, even while academics and students, along with huge swathes of society, have their personal and professional lives thrown into turmoil.
This latest rundown of the biggest global headlines from our specialist news service, Research Professional News, highlights the steps universities and funders are taking in the fight against the virus and the COVID-19 respiratory disease it causes.
COVID-19: Vaccine research and funding
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen this week claimed that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready by the autumn, despite most public health bodies and regulators worldwide expecting the time frame will be closer to 18 months. Von der Leyen made her comments as the Commission assembled a panel of science advisers to guide the European Union’s response to the pandemic.
A ‘first of its kind’ fund has been launched by the World Health Organization to help tackle the pandemic through donations from businesses, charities and individuals. The COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund will prioritize helping countries prepare their public health response to the pandemic, but will also contribute to the R&D of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, according to Scott Prendergast from the WHO’s health emergencies division.
The move followed the announcement of a $125-million joint initiative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Mastercard to speed up drug development, called the Therapeutics Accelerator.
Regional funding efforts include a European Union call offering €45m for the development of treatments and diagnostic tools, while in the US President Trump has signed off $8.3 billion in emergency spending, including more than $3bn earmarked for R&D.
But despite the efforts of governments and foundations to make funding available quickly, there is widespread recognition that much more will be needed.
COVID-19: University closures and online teaching
Many universities across Europe have stopped face-to-face teaching in favour of switching to online, and closed buildings to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
France, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland and Poland are among those countries to have instituted nationwide halts to face-to-face teaching in universities. Meanwhile in the UK, closures remain ad-hoc, with many institutions stopping face-to-face teaching despite official government advice to stay open. Research laboratories in many countries remain open. Research Professional News’s correspondent in Italy, Fabio Turone, provided this special report on life under lockdown.
Research institutions across the US are taking a variety of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, with a patchwork of travel bans, event cancellations and remote working coming into force.
Many institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have moved to remote teaching, while Harvard Medical School is ‘ramping down’ its laboratory research, with labs being closed after Wednesday 19 March. Harvard’s move excludes those involved in research on immediate needs related to the pandemic.
Other coronavirus developments
In the UK, the leaders of research assessment exercise the Research Excellence Framework are considering options amid widespread calls from academics for the exercise to be delayed due to the impact of coronavirus on their preparations. REF2021, which comes seven years after the previous audit, currently has a submission deadline of 27 November.
Publishers have made research related to the coronavirus freely available. The move has fuelled calls from open-access advocates to do the same for all publicly funded research, particularly that related to other diseases.
You can follow breaking news on the response of the higher education and research sectors to coronavirus at www.researchprofessionalnews.com, where we are publishing daily updates. In the meantime, stay safe… and please wash your hands.
March 19, 2020