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Funders join forces to tackle Covid-19

Money available for quick and coordinated action to help society deal with viral pandemic

Five government agencies have teamed up to launch two research calls for projects trying to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The agencies—the Science Foundation Ireland, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Health Research Board and Irish Research Council—said on 26 March that they are looking for an efficient and coordinated response from researchers that delivers quick results. The goal of the funding is to deliver valuable and timely research data that can help in the battle against coronavirus and its impact on patients and health care workers.

Time is the crucial issue and research projects are expected to deliver in six months or less, the SFI said. 

The agencies have channelled the funding calls along two paths, according  Mark Ferguson, head of the SFI and the government’s chief scientific adviser. The Health Research Board and the Irish Research Council will focus on medical countermeasures, health service readiness and social and policy countermeasures, he said.

The SFI, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will instead focus on the development of “innovative solutions that can have a rapid demonstrable impact on Covid-19 in Ireland”, according to Ferguson. 

Ireland had taken a “cross-government and public health” approach in its response to the pandemic, the foundation said in a separate statement. The SFI’s goal is to find good ideas to tackle the virus and then bring them quickly into use.

To do so, the foundation said it wants to rely on facilities already available to academia and enterprise. It said it hopes to unlock “the potential of Ireland-based researchers and innovators to join the global efforts”.

Health-related research will be guided by the World Health Organization’s R&D Blueprint and by the Global Infectious Disease Collaboration for International Disease Preparedness, the foundation said.

The agencies have established an approximate timeline for the two streams. The call opened on 26 March and is set to close on 9 April, after which an assessment panel evaluates the proposals. Panel decisions on projects are set to be issued by 20 April, and will receive board approval by 22 April.

Towards the end of the month all contracts and follow-up documentation would be completed, making sure that projects should be under way by 11 May.

The research in question should be short and quick, ranging from three months to 24 months, the foundation said. Shorter projects that deliver good results would likely be favoured over longer-term research efforts, it advised.

Funding in the medical call would typically be up to €200,000 per project including overheads contribution. In some cases and where justified, funding awards may be higher, the foundation statement said.

One of the topics the fund is meant to support is the development of strategies to block misinformation via social media and attempts to increase stigma and fear. In addition, the foundation wants to research the psychological needs of those caring for people with Covid-19.