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Leaders hail $8bn fund for Covid-19 R&D

Image: JD Urban [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

But charitable partnerships overseeing coronavirus cash are warned funding must come quickly to researchers

Research leaders have welcomed the success of a global fundraising drive for Covid-19 R&D, which has raised $8 billion for work on vaccines, diagnostic tests and therapeutics, and moves to make them accessible and affordable worldwide.

But they warned that care must be taken to ensure the funds—equivalent to €7.4bn—are issued quickly, effectively and equitably.

“This is a good start, but we need to see the full detail of these commitments,” said Jeremy Farrar, head of biomedical research charity the Wellcome Trust, which was a partner for the fundraising event hosted by the European Commission on 4 May.

Funding “needs to be made available immediately for the urgent research that is needed”, he said.

European nations are contributing $4bn to the fund, including $1bn via the EU’s Horizon 2020 R&D programme. Donations have also come from other nations, global organisations and individuals—including $1 million from pop star Madonna.

The money will be passed to three new partnerships to advance work on vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. Each will be run “relatively autonomously” by teams of biomedical charities, the Commission said.

International charities the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation will act as co-conveners for the partnership for vaccines. Biomedical funders Unitaid, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust will do the same for therapies. The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics and the Global Fund will take diagnostics.

The charities will work with industry, research organisations, regulators, funders and other international organisations, such as the World Health Organization, to ensure funds reach those best able to use them.

The event “demonstrates the capacity of the EU to bring together forces for good”, said Jan Palmowski, secretary general of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.

How the money will be allocated is not yet clear. “The issue of how to ensure a fair allocation and prioritise the distributions of these new solutions will have to be discussed from the start by the partnerships,” said a Commission spokesperson.

“Research has to be competitive, no matter who manages the funds,” said Lidia Borrell-Damián, secretary general of the association of research funders and performers Science Europe.

Open, competitive calls are “the first proof of excellence”, she said, and should be part of processes that disburse public funds.

“This should be seen as a first positive step. Now this money needs to be properly used [and] given to the right hands.”

It is not certain whether there are enough suitable researchers to do the work world leaders have pledged to fund, she warned. “It’s a market question—to what extent the scientific community is able to absorb all these funds in an efficient way,” she said.

What is clear is the global commitment to support Covid-19 R&D and the Commission’s success in marshalling such appetite.

Speaking ahead of the event, the UN secretary general António Guterres said the EU’s decision to call and host the pledging conference was “exactly the kind of leadership the world needs today”. 

This article also appeared in Research Europe