Supporting Scientific Research – Monthly Research News Roundup

Welcome to RESEARCHconnect’s monthly roundup of research news during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our regular news output, the RESEARCHconnect Content Team continues to track international COVID-19 research news, providing the most complete picture for our clients.

With no return to pre-COVID normality in sight, this monthly roundup is expanding to include key funding developments and events from across the research landscape.

Opportunity to Help Shape Future of EU Research at 2020 European R&I Days

On 22-24 September, the second annual European Research and Innovation Days will bring together policymakers, researchers, entrepreneurs and citizens to debate and shape the future of research and innovation. RESEARCHconnect will be in attendance during the virtual event, which is the European Commission’s annual flagship event for research and innovation.

The event will begin with the final recommendations of the Horizon Europe mission boards being handed over to the Commission.

The five proposed missions are as follows:

Conquering Cancer: Mission Possible.

Accelerating the transition to a climate prepared and resilient Europe.

Regenerating our Ocean and Waters.

100 Climate-Neutral Cities by 2030 – by and for the citizens.

Caring for Soil is Caring for Life.

The Commission will announce the selected missions at the end of 2020 ahead of Horizon Europe’s scheduled launch in 2021.

The event programme will consist of interactive sessions enabling participants to provide input on how research and innovation policy and funding can help propel Europe’s recovery and pave the way to a green, digital and resilient future. Sessions will be based around 10 ‘hubs’, each focusing on a different topic. These topics include ‘Green Deal’, ‘Horizon Europe’, ‘Missions’ and ‘International Cooperation’.

The 2020 edition will also feature intensive policy co-designing, thought-provoking panels and matchmaking opportunities.

Registrations for the 2020 Research and Innovation Days will open in early September on the European Commission website and will be reported on RESEARCHconnect.

European Commission Awards €128 Million to New COVID-19 Research Projects

On 11 August, the European Commission announced that as part of its €1.4 billion pledge to the Coronavirus Global Response initiative, 23 new research projects will share in a total €128 million of funding.

Responding to the Commission’s second emergency request for proposals launched on 19 May 2020, research proposals were fast-tracked through evaluation by independent experts. Although project funding is conditional on a final Commission decision and signature of the Horizon 2020 Grant Agreement, the successful research teams are free to start work on their projects immediately.

The shortlisted projects involve 34 organisations involved from 16 countries outside of the EU including countries associated to the Horizon 2020 programme (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Israel, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey) and third countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Columbia, Congo, Gabon, India, Korea, South Africa and the United States).

Selected projects include:

Repurposing manufacturing for rapid production of vital medical supplies and equipment needed for testing, treatment and prevention – for instance, using injection moulding and additive manufacturing (3-D printing), adaptive production and supply chain methods, and repurposing manufacturing as a service network for fast reaction.

Developing medical technologies and digital tools to improve detection, surveillance and patient care – for example, through the development of new devices for faster, cheaper and easier diagnosis (including remotely) plus new technologies to protect healthcare workers.

Analysing behavioural and socioeconomic impacts of the responses of government and public health systems – for instance, on mental health, including gender-specific aspects in risk factors and the socioeconomic burden, to develop inclusive guidance for policymakers and health authorities and enhance preparedness for future similar events.

Learning from large groups of patients (cohorts) by connecting existing cohorts in the EU and beyond to assess their exposure to certain risk factors to better understand the possible causes of disease in order to improve responsiveness to the virus and future public health threats.

Enhancing collaboration of existing EU and international cohorts by networking research institutions that are collecting data on patient care to enable studies into patient characteristics, risk factors, safety and effectiveness of treatments, and potential strategies against coronavirus.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: ‘Emergency funding from Horizon 2020 will enable researchers to rapidly develop solutions with and for patients, care workers, hospitals, local communities and companies. The results will help them to better cope with and survive coronavirus infections. It’s encouraging to see the research community mobilise so rapidly and strongly.’

Research Synergies and the Global Fight Against COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how the research community communicates and shares information. Previous RESEARCHconnect roundups have referred to the recognised need for global collaboration and a pooling of research findings and data, as rapidly as possible, to fight the virus.

As the battle commenced, there was a commitment – across nations – to collaborate and provide equitable global access to research expertise, knowledge, COVID-19 research activity and new technologies.

Launched in April, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Access to COVID-19 Tools (Act) Accelerator set out to ‘accelerate equitable global access to safe, quality, effective and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and thus to ensure that in the fight against COVID-19, no one is left behind’. It brings together leaders of governments, global health organisations, businesses and philanthropies in a united response against COVID-19. As part of the WHO’s ongoing COVID-19 efforts, it held a press briefing on the virus in August.

Developed by UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) and GloPID-R (Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness) the COVID-19 Research Project Tracker includes funded research projects across the world related to the pandemic. New to the database is:

An interactive heatmap of these projects against the research priorities set out in the WHO Coordinated Global Research Roadmap: 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

The complete clinical trials dataset from the WHO ICTRP (International Clinical Trials Registry Platform), with additional categorisation to allow detailed pivot analysis on DAC list countries (in a downloadable Excel file).

A future addition will be a list of COVID-19 Data Repositories (in a downloadable Excel file).

Collabovid, an open-source search engine for COVID-19 publications, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany. Its objective is to develop an easy to use interface to access, sort and classify the huge number of articles on coronavirus. The website, created during the COVID-19 Global Hackathon at the end of March, is updated daily.

In a commitment to open research data and Open Science, the European Commission’s COVID-19 Data Platform consists of three connected components:

1. SARS-CoV-2 Data Hubs

2. Federated European Genome-phenome Archive

3. COVID-19 Data Portal

The data portal continues to increase in diversity and volume and now includes over 152,000 publications within the ‘Literature’ dataset. The platform’s other datasets are Sequences, Expression Data, Proteins, Biochemistry and a repository of Related Resources.

In further commitments to global access, August saw the Commission register Right to Cure. A European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) allows for one million citizens from at least one quarter of EU Member States to invite the EC to propose a legal act in areas where it has the power to act. Once the target of one million signatures is reached, the Commission will decide on what action to take.

The ECI lists the following objectives for Right to Cure:

Ensure that intellectual property rights, including patents, do not hamper the accessibility or availability of any future COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.

Ensure that EU legislation on data and market exclusivity does not limit the immediate effectiveness of compulsory licences issued by Member States.

Introduce legal obligations for beneficiaries from EU funds to share COVID-19 health technology related knowledge, intellectual property and/or data in a technology or patent pool.

Introduce legal obligations for beneficiaries from EU funds regarding transparency on public contributions and production costs, as well as accessibility and affordability clauses combined with non-exclusive licences.

By the end of August, 469 people had signed the petition.

With a grant totalling €77.7 million from the Innovative Medicines Initiative, CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe) announced its launch in August. Led by VRI-Inserm (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research), CARE is a five-year project that brings together 37 partners from Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US. The project will maximise synergies and complementarities with other initiatives to tackle current and future coronavirus outbreaks.

Virtual events have also become tools to support cooperation and a collaborative global research effort. The shift to online events removes the barriers of costs and time, with instant access and the ability to watch in retrospect.

In July, GloPID-R COVID-19 Research Synergies virtual meetings took place. Global funders, leading researchers and stakeholders attended the event. GloPID-R Chair Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah concluded: ‘GloPID-R is confident that this series of meetings will contribute to ongoing efforts to maximise the use of resources, generate connections between research projects, create opportunities to share information and therefore advance the progress of the collective effort to end COVID-19.’

Virtual events are not exclusive to COVID-19. Alongside the upcoming European Commission event, the Aspect webinar series includes sessions such as social science entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and the commercialisation of social sciences. EARMA’s Digital Conference looks at four key areas in research management and administration, including a session on 6 October entitled ‘Horizon Europe: Solving the Puzzle’.

What We’ve Seen: Call Updates

Despite the noticeable slow-down in new funding calls for COVID-19 and related research, there continues to be a steady stream of funding announcements in various areas, including links to and impacts on other health conditions, virtual collaboration, education, technology and the continuing socioeconomic impacts.

In the UK, Heart Research UK (HRUK) has launched a grant to support research into the links between COVID-19 and heart disease, and the Stroke Association has issued a call for research that advances understanding of the causal links and potential mechanisms between COVID-19 and stroke. The application deadlines are 12 October and 19 October 2020 respectively.

According to HRUK, it has been established that people with existing cardiovascular disease have a higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 infection, and evidence is emerging that the virus can cause damage to the heart. The Stroke Association draws attention to the CoroNerve study of the neurological features of COVID-19 in the UK, which showed 153 reports of neurological complications in COVID-19 patients over a three-week period, of which 53 were ischaemic stroke. It is clear that there is scope for further research on various health conditions in terms of the additional health complications and increased risks of COVID-19 infection.

In Germany, Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF – Federal Ministry for Education and Research) has issued the ‘Prevention and Care of Epidemic Infections through Innovative Medical Technology’ call to encourage collaborative research that responds to the need for appropriate medical care of COVID-19 patients. The thematic focus of the programme is on novel and marketable medical technology solutions for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and aftercare of epidemic infectious diseases. There are different deadlines depending on the proposed project length: the deadline is 28 September 2020 for projects of up to 12 months and 30 January 2021 for projects of up to 36 months.

Also seeking projects related to technology, in this instance educational technology or ‘learning engineering’, is the ‘Futures Forum on Learning: Tools Competition’. The initiative invites teachers, students, researchers and technologists in any country to propose a tool, technology, platform or research project that can accelerate recovery from COVID-19-related learning loss for students and advance the field of learning engineering. For this scheme, a total prize pool of up to $2 million is available and the phase 1 application deadline is 18 September 2020. Phase 1 involves the submission of a one-page description of the tool or technology.

Virtual education is fast becoming part of the ‘new normal’ in an attempt to combat the loss of educational opportunities and the potential resultant long-term impacts on students. UNESCO quotes two startling statistics: at the peak of the crisis, almost 1.6 billion children in 195 countries worldwide could not use their classrooms. The European Data Portal states that in order to reduce the impact of closures, educational institutions must look for alternative ways to provide access to education, such as online courses, video classes and electronic textbooks.

The FACE Foundation is an American non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting French-American relations through innovative cultural and educational projects. The Foundation, together with the French Embassy in the US and the US Embassy in France, has launched a call for projects entitled ‘Transitioning to Virtual Exchange’. The scheme will give funding to higher education institutions in France and the United States to incorporate virtual exchange or other types of global learning into their curricula in order to maintain French-American educational collaborations. The application deadline is 30 October 2020.

As the pandemic’s effects on society and education continue, funding is offered on an international level by the American Psychological Association (APA) to:

Address the impact of COVID-19 on educational participants; and/or

Understand the experiences of renewed civil rights and social justice movements in educational contexts.

APA encourages applicants to design studies that incorporate both of these goals (ie studies that aim to understand the educational opportunities, supports and barriers created by the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to marginalised populations). The call is entitled ‘Division 15 Research Grant Opportunity: Education Research in the Time of COVID-19 and Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements’ and has a deadline of 15 October 2020.

What We’ve Seen: Successful Funding Applications

Successful funding proposals continue to be announced and the number and variety of funded projects emphasises the sheer scale, complexity and wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19. It also highlights the rapid and adaptable response to the pandemic from funders in terms of allocating budgets, reviewing proposals when physical meetings are not possible and funding in areas beyond the urgent medical needs.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) Call for COVID-19 Related Proposals announced details of the 43 successful projects around the world that will use various aspects of astronomy to help communities experiencing the negative impacts of COVID-19. Successful projects include:

Slooh online astronomy education (worldwide): Slooh has enabled people to explore the universe together through its global network of telescopes and automated observatories. The grant will be used to support Slooh’s home-based astronomy online classes for students who want to explore space and astronomy during lockdown.

Development of an online platform for assessment of COVID-19 spread for planning and implementation of timely intervention (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania): The project aims to develop an online platform for mapping COVID-19 hots spots in order to provide near real-time information that will help plan interventions such as the location of quarantine facilities, humanitarian assistance and distribution of resources/PPE.

Astronomy from archival data (India and worldwide): The project will train students to use high-quality astronomy data from various facilities. Participants will be shown techniques for accessing and analysing astronomy data from the internet, using virtual observatory tools and presenting in scientific journals.

Seeking to improve understanding of the links between COVID-19 and ethnicity, the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have funded six new projects. The projects will investigate the disproportionate death rate from COVID-19 among people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, including BAME health and social care workers. Successful projects include:

Understanding risk and behaviours in healthcare workers (Dr Manish Pareek, University of Leicester and Leicester Royal Infirmary).

Tracking COVID-19 in minority ethnic and migrant groups (Dr Robert Aldridge, University College London).

Testing a framework to support inclusion of BAME participants in COVID-19 research (Professor Shaun Treweek, University of Aberdeen).

The COVID Decision Modeling Initiative (CDMI) closed to applications in June 2020 and offered rapid response grant funding to modellers seeking to inform COVID-19 virus decision making. CDMI received more than 60 applications, from which nine recipients were selected. The amount committed totalled almost $350,000. The successful recipients include: Targeted COVID-19 Vaccination Strategies – An Agent-based Modeling Evaluation Considering Limited Vaccination Capacities (TAV-COVID) (Beate Jahn and Uwe Siebert, University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology, Austria); and Emerging Therapies for COVID-19 – The Value of More Clinical Trials vs Implementation (Myriam Hunink, Erasmus University Medical Center, Netherlands).

RESEARCHconnect Coverage

RESEARCHconnect offers support via ongoing coverage of changes to funding and policy during the pandemic, helping the research community as it adapts to its new working environment and helping it keep pace with current and future funding support/strategies. We will also keep you informed of events overshadowed by COVID-19, but which will still have a huge impact before the end of the year, such as the clash between the European Council and Parliament over the long-term budget for 2021-27, the run-up to Horizon Europe and the outcome of Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU.

More information is available on the RESEARCHconnect funding information platform. RESEARCHconnect provides up-to-the minute content, insight and analysis on research funding news and policy. To find out more about how RESEARCHconnect can keep you in the know, and subscription fees, contact us today.