Go back

$1bn a year proposed for NIH research on long Covid

Image: Images By Tang Ming Tung, via Getty Images

Proposal says National Institutes of Health should create dedicated programme on long-term effects of pandemic

The National Institutes of Health should be given $1 billion a year to support research into the long-term health impacts of Covid-19 infections, according to the chair of the Senate health committee.

Democrat senator Bernie Sanders published a draft proposal to address what he described as the long-Covid “crisis” on 9 April. He said that at least 22 million Americans are currently suffering long-term effects of Covid-19 infection, experiencing “a variety of symptoms from cognitive impairment and extreme fatigue to life-threatening cardiovascular and neurological challenges”.

A hearing his committee held in January “underscored the urgent need” to find treatments for long Covid and better understand the risks associated with it, he said.

Dedicated research programme

In his draft proposal, Sanders said the NIH should get $1bn a year for ten years “to respond to the long Covid crisis with the sense of urgency that it demands”.

He said it should set up a centralised coordination system for supporting research into long Covid, which should involve patients with experience of the condition.

A dedicated research programme should be created, he said, and a director appointed to oversee it and create a strategic plan for it. This programme should investigate the risks and physiological impacts of long Covid and “explore [the] best ways to prevent, detect, monitor, treat, and cure” it.

The NIH should be required to review proposals for clinical trials into long Covid treatments more rapidly than other grant proposals, so that it can “prioritise funding” for studies into treatments and preventative actions, he said.

Applicants should receive decisions within 120 days, he said, with priority given to studies into potential new treatments and treatments already being used by patients and healthcare providers in ways not yet formally supported.

An advisory board of researchers, healthcare professionals and patients should be created to help direct this research funding, according to Sanders, with help from an outside entity such as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Sharing data and disseminating findings

Sanders added that the NIH should also facilitate research by setting up a database for sharing tissue samples and anonymised data from patients with long Covid.

And a committee of specialist researchers should be created to synthesise evidence and publish an annual report into the findings of supported research, he said.

He also called for a public communication campaign on the risks of and treatments for the condition.

The health committee is calling for feedback from researchers, healthcare professionals and affected patients and families before it formally introduces the proposal to the senate.

“Congress must act now to ensure a treatment is found for this terrible disease that affects millions of Americans and their families,” said Sanders. “Far too many patients with long Covid have struggled to get their symptoms taken seriously. Far too many medical professionals have either dismissed or misdiagnosed their health problems. That has got to change.”

At the January hearing, Bill Cassidy, the Republican ranking member on the committee, also called on Congress to increase its support for research into the condition.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe