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Data does the protecting

Harnessing digital technology for pandemic preparedness

The Trinity Challenge, unveiled in September, is an international coalition of 32 universities, not-for-profit funders and companies. It is headquartered in the UK and centres on a £10 million (€11m) prize fund for those looking to harness data and analytics to prepare for the next global health emergency, whatever that may be.  

The fund opened for applications in October, but bids must be finalised between 1 and 15 April. People from any country and professional background can apply and bids are accepted in three categories: identification, response and recovery.

The full details of the awards are still being prepared but potential applicants can already get in touch with the challenge secretariat for support with ideas and requests for collaboration. Applicants are encouraged to ask for support from one of the members of the coalition before bidding, but independent applications will be accepted.

Hala Audi, chief executive of the Trinity Challenge, explains how the prizes will work.

Where did the idea for the Trinity Challenge come from?

It’s the brainchild of Sally Davies, who was the chief medical officer for England until about 18 months ago and is now master of Trinity College, Cambridge. We are a public, private, academic and social partnership—it feels like a mouthful to say it, but each element is important.

How much will projects be able to win, how many will there be and how long will they last?

Amounts are still to be determined and we will come forward with those details as soon as we can. We have talked about 10 to 15 projects, but we’re finalising this. As for duration, I would say we have a sense of urgency and are probably looking for projects to make a difference in one to three years.

How does the Trinity Challenge differ from other funding opportunities?

We are not offering research grants. It’s structured as a public challenge that gives a prize to the best ideas that are submitted. That prize could be used to implement rollouts or scale up an idea, so it’s not a research grant at all in the normal sense. We want people to come to us with ideas and ask for help and build collaborations with our members.

How will that happen?

There is a process on the website for getting in touch, submitting early ideas and asking for help and support. This would be more than just advice—if we think an idea could work, we will connect those teams with our membership. Our members are not involved in the judging process; we will have independent panels and judges.

What kind of ideas are you looking for?

It’s broad but we’re looking only for solutions, research or pilots that make use of data analytics in a way that hasn’t been done before, or associate data sets or sectors that haven’t been used before with a pragmatic application in mind. I think the spirit of the prize is to be open. Having said that, we will be especially keen for interdisciplinary applications and those that cut across sectors.

Researchers from which disciplines are going to be best placed to apply?

Epidemiologists and virologists are well placed, of course, but we’re also looking for economists because until we get the economic incentive right for data users and providers and policymakers, we may not understand what is blocking innovation and progress. 

Environmental science is also going to be important—we all know there is a link between human health, animal health and the environment—and we want to see the best data scientists bring their wizardry to our challenge. Social behaviour experts, too, will be needed—there is certainly underinvestment in social research that could look at how to solve major public health issues.

What should researchers focus on when applying?

They will need to be clear about the applications of the research. It will be better if the idea has been piloted—the more advanced the application, the better. That doesn’t mean that earlier, more fundamental research won’t be looked at. Of course, applicants will need to be cognisant of our values and our mission.

Can you summarise that mission?

To be better prepared for the next health emergency, with a focus on the most vulnerable populations, and to have a system of global health and a system of disease surveillance and preparedness that is fair and that can have the highest impact.

Is this a one-off or will there be further awards?

We hope to have about three rounds but we’re a new organisation and it is hard to say. People who think they have something now should definitely apply in this round—if it’s too early, they can apply again. We’re happy for it to be an iterative process.

What would your top advice be for potential applicants?

This competition will be about having ideas that will have the greatest impact, so don’t deselect yourself if you don’t have the strongest publication record or a stellar academic career.

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com