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‘Stop talking and invest in science to end pandemic,’ says Farrar

Image: Wellcome Trust [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Plea comes as Boris Johnson reaffirms commitment to boosting R&D funding to £22bn a year

The director of the Wellcome Trust has called for “urgent investment” in vaccines, tests and treatments to bring the Covid-19 pandemic under control.

“The time for talking is over. If we don’t act now, there will be a longer, much tougher, road ahead,” Jeremy Farrar said in a statement on 4 November.

“Economies are bleeding money, jobs are being lost, futures are stolen due to lost educational opportunities, and mental health issues are rising. Yet, we continue to apply sticking plasters.”

He said the “exit strategy” is through the ACT-Accelerator, a global collaboration coordinated by the World Health Organisation that aims to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to new Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

“There is still an urgent funding gap of $28.4 billion—of which $4.5bn is needed immediately to fast-track vaccines, tests and treatments, and prepare health systems through March 2021,” said Farrar. “These upfront costs may seem high in normal times, but they are trivial compared with the damage being done.”

Farrar urged governments to “engage their full weight to support the ACT-Accelerator, to get the world out of this”.

“It would be the greatest financial investment ever made,” he said.

His comments came as former UK science minister Chris Skidmore questioned prime minister Boris Johnson on the government’s commitment to investing in science.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions on 4 November, Skidmore said a potential vaccine “provides us all with hope” thanks to investment in research and development.

“The prime minister has pledged more money for research than any of his predecessors put together to deliver on his vision of the UK as a global science superpower. Does he agree that maintaining this government’s commitment to spend 2.4 per cent of GDP on research and development [by 2027] will also be essential to that vision?”

“The answer is, basically, yes,” said Johnson, reiterating the government’s commitment to the target, as well as its plan to invest £22bn a year in R&D by 2024-25.