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Covid-19 publications mirror virus’s spread across world

China retains ‘lion’s share’ of citations, with EU and US taking lead in published articles

The spread of research into Covid-19 has closely mirrored the spread of the disease, prompting a flurry of papers and clinical trials, according to an analysis from technology company Digital Science.

“The highest intensity of research into Covid-19 began in China and gradually migrated west, mirroring the movement of the virus itself,” say Digital Science head, Daniel Hook, and the company’s director of innovation, Simon Porter, in a 4 June report.

The pair identified a profusion of research into the disease in their analysis.

By 1 June Covid-19 had prompted more than 42,700 academic papers and 3,100 clinical trials, they say. It has also led to more than 420 datasets, 270 patents, and 750 policy documents.

The Covid-19 publication landscape has shifted over the course of the pandemic. China took an early lead, but has since been caught by other science powers.

Chinese researchers have published 74 papers on Covid-19 in the leading medical journals The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA. US-based researchers have 286 publications in those three journals, and EU researchers 160.

But Hook and Porter note that China “continues to enjoy the lion’s share of the citations”, perhaps linked to its early start on Covid-19 work.

“While research in the field is clearly moving quickly, it currently remains anchored to China’s early publications,” they say.

Major centres of research have emerged around hardest-hit areas. This includes the Chinese cities Wuhan, Beijing and Shanghai, Italy and the UK in Europe, and the east coast of the US.

The same geographic pattern holds true for clinical trials, with China ramping up new trials into Covid-19 in January and February, and activity decreasing in spring months, as the situation there got under control. A similar pattern emerged Europe and the US, albeit two months later.

“Although the situation around Covid-19 is unfortunate, it is allowing us to see the development of a new field, and the culture change associated with that development in ‘real time’,” said Hook.