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Call for more transparency around Covid-19 funding

Deluge of R&D money makes coronavirus research difficult to track and report

A massive swell in Covid-19 funding has left researchers who track R&D spending scrambling to keep up, one expert has warned.

Gaps in researchers’ ability to track funding could make it difficult for governments and funders to identify areas that require more support in future and to shape long-term policies. Efforts by civil society groups to scrutinise spending and lobby for underserved people and disciplines could also be undermined.

“A lot of challenges we’ve seen in the past are being magnified,” Janeen Madan Keller, a senior policy analyst and assistant director of global health at the Centre for Global Development, told Research Professional News.

On 4 May alone, $8 billion (€7.4bn) was pledged to a Covid-19 fundraising drive hosted by the European Commission. By comparison, a research group from the University of Southampton in the UK has estimated that of over $100bn spent on infectious disease research between 2000 and 2017, only $500 million went on coronaviruses.  

Keller said the “sheer amount” of new funding for Covid-19 research makes it difficult untangle revenue streams and track the success of projects, leading to a “lack of reliable data”.

Covid-19 funding has skyrocketed since February, when Keller first started coming across it, hitting a peak in April, with more than 800 calls recorded on the Devex global development platform, which tracks funding, she said.

“There’s been a flurry of announcements,” said Keller.

But not all opportunities are recorded, and it is not always clear which funding is new or repurposed from other pots of money.

Keller said efforts to track funding must pay attention to regional and national efforts and at a greater level of detail: “There’s a finer grain focus needed going forward.”

She called for more robust tracking, but cautioned that future efforts should not reinvent the wheel.

“One thing I’d like to see is some thinking around how the community can use tracking efforts and systems that already exist and make some of these trackers speak to each other,” she said.