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Collaboration suffered in race to understand Covid-19

Image: IAEA Imagebank [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

“Unprecedented” pandemic funding resulted in fragmented research

The global rush to study Covid-19 hampered international collaboration and overlooked low- and middle-income country priorities, a study of pandemic funding has revealed.

The study, by the Covid-19 Research Coordination and Learning Initiative (COVID CIRCLE), analysed more than 10,500 Covid-19 projects funded up to mid-April this year to the tune of US$4.7 billion.

This represents an “unprecedented” rush to fund research on an emerging disease, the report says. But only around 1,500 of the projects had an LMIC focus, and a mere 425 of the 10,500 qualified as multi-country collaborations.

LMIC-based institutions made up only 720 of the 3,995 institutions that led projects overall.

This resulted in a “proliferation of heterogeneous small studies with limited impact for populations in LMICs” in the pandemic’s first year, the report says.

Relationships matter

LMIC institutions with strong funding relationships preceding the pandemic were best placed to pivot to Covid-19 research. “The need to build partnerships during inter-epidemic periods was therefore seen as key,” the report notes.

The report recommends research financing bodies should create more long-term funding networks that are able to pivot to emerging diseases as they arise.

The report also calls for greater guidance, support and systems to promote the open sharing of research data and results during pandemics—which many LMIC scientists struggled with, it says—and better global coordination of funding mechanisms.

The COVID CIRCLE initiative is funded by United Kingdom-based medical research charity Wellcome, the UK Department of Health and Social Care, and UK Research and Innovation, a research funder. Funding from the European Union also supported the work.

The authors say that the data captured by the report may have overlooked some funding from grantmakers whose award information is not published in English.