The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting universities and research institutes across the world. But the same institutions are also working very hard to find out how the disease can be stopped and its effects mitigated.
Follow this live blog for the latest updates on how the crisis is impacting research and innovation, and what governments, funders, companies, universities, associations and scientists are doing to stop or cope with the pandemic.
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Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have committed to make 200 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine available through the COVAX vaccines distribution mechanism set up by the World Health Organisation, if the vaccine is approved.
COVAX was set up to ensure rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. As of mid-October, 92 richer countries, including the EU27, have signed up to pay for vaccines procured through COVAX, for their own populations, and to make donations to 92 lower income countries. The mechanism is being overseen and co-led by GAVI, the global vaccines alliance, and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
COVAX aims to procure, equitably allocate and deliver two billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. Seth Berkley, GAVI CEO said, “Gavi is seeking to secure doses of the most promising vaccine candidates – so that the 184 participants involved in the COVAX Facility can make sure their most at-risk groups, such as healthcare workers, have rapid access to doses of a safe and effective vaccine. That is the world’s best chance to end the acute stage of this pandemic, and we encourage other vaccine manufacturers to work with us towards that shared global goal.”
As of 6 October, COVAX had received pledges of $1.7 billion to procure COVID-19 vaccines for donating to poorer countries.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published its Research at Risk report, warning the hit to charity fundraising from COVID-19 could mean up to £7.8 billion less for medical research in the UK between now and 2027.
Medical research charities that rely on events and high street shops for much of their funding have seen a 40 per cent fall in income as a result of the pandemic.
IPPR modelling predicts that lost charity income could mean, in a worst-case scenario, that medical research charities invest £4.1 billion less in health R&D between now and 2027. That is predicted to have a knock-on effect on private investment in collaborative research, which could fall by as much as £1.3 billion.
An additional fall in private investment, due to adverse economic conditions, of £2.5 billion, puts £7.8 billion of medical research investment is at risk. IPPR says the government should introduce a new, three year life sciences charity fund, equal to the shortfall in medical charity income caused by Covid-19 and lasting for three years. Charities should be free to use this fund as needed to maintain their R&D portfolios.
This matches an earlier call by Aisling Burnand chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, a body representing160 charities that between them put £1.9 billion into R&D in 2019. “Looking at the years ahead, not only will there be a drastic shortfall in charity funded research, but the knock on impact on levels of private R&D investment will be sizable,” Burnand said. “The IPPR Research at Risk report gives a strong economic rationale for the proposed Life Sciences Charity Partnership Fund.”
The world needs to change its mindset on health, moving away from thinking only about individual clinical outcomes, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the World Health summit in a speech on Sunday. “In today's world, we need to look after our health by looking after our planet, our wellbeing and our sustainable development,” von der Leyen said.
She was speaking as the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic tightens its grip. “The dramatic spikes in recent weeks across the world and especially here in Europe reflect a picture that is getting worse by the day,” said von der Leyen. “We are back to March and April levels and in many cases already far beyond it.”
But while the virus is back stronger than ever, knowledge and experience of how to control it is also much better than before, she said. One case in point is the ability to coordinate across borders, with the EU having carried out research that forms the basis of common criteria and thresholds when deciding whether to introduce travel restrictions, and a single set of rules for testing and quarantining people.
Last week, the EU set up a gateway allowing national COVID-19 contract tracing apps to interoperate. Tracing apps from Germany, Ireland and Italy are now linked to this gateway, with the Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia, Spain and others, due to link up.
Building on these measures, von der Leyen pledged to put in place an EU-wide strategy to centrally collect data and evidence to assess the impact, effectiveness and any side effects, if and when any COVID-19 vaccines are approved. “Preparations for these activities must start now to be in place when COVID-19 vaccines reach the EU market,” she said.
In addition, the commission will be putting forward proposals to improve and strengthen the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Control, and to set up a new European agency for biomedical advanced research and development. “We will build the foundations of a stronger European health union in which 27 countries work together to detect, prepare and respond collectively,” said von der Leyen.
The European Universities Association (EUA) today released a report suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on universities which will need adequate support from public authorities to weather the crisis.
The report says universities suffered immediate losses due to the interruption of services, research contracts and international student recruitment. At the same, they now need to invest in better digital infrastructure for online learning and to adapt campuses to new health regulations.
“There are high levels of uncertainty and great concern in projections about future income from both public and private sources,” said Thomas Estermann, the EUA’s director of governance, funding and public policy development. “However, on a positive note, greater trust in universities due to their prominent role in crisis recovery is an asset – and we can capitalise on that.”