The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected nearly all sectors like social, professional, employment, health, and economy. Nations across the world are trying their best to fight with this pandemic and joining forces to mitigate its effects. There have been scientific discussions about its prevention, possible medication, severity, arresting its spread, and other relative procedures to cure the disease. New diagnostic tests and the development of vaccines have been facilitated by studying the genetic structure of the virus. Funds are being provided for medical research, clinical trials of vaccines, preparation of tools for diagnostics, real time data analysis with applications of high performance computing, artificial intelligence, and for preventive measures. Focused interdisciplinary research approaches targeted to provide solutions are encouraged as well as practised during this time.
An International Ministerial-Level Virtual Summit on “Global Efforts in fighting coronavirus, from research to practice” was organised by Israel on 15th September 2020 for providing a common platform to the countries to share their challenges and approaches. Ministers from different countries gathered to promote global cooperation on the scientific and technological front in fighting COVID-19. A declaration was signed during this summit to encourage open research amongst signatory countries. They all agreed to share their disease spread details, ideas to mitigate it and research to combat it on a virtual platform. An international virtual platform was launched for sharing innovative scientific research, other solutions and ideas to defy it.
Israel Office of Science and Technology has been engaged in several fronts like research, vaccine development, and other innovative scientific & technological solutions. It reported significant progress in vaccine development by “The Migal Galilee R&D Institute”. On the scientific and technological front, Israel has involved the private sector by supporting innovative start-ups to provide immediate solutions. It has formed the special cabinet, “The Coronavirus Cabinet”, an executive level committee that is in-charge of gathering, holding information, controlling device agencies and putting out provisions and government policies to face the pandemic. The multidisciplinary advisory team, “Team 19” has also been constituted taking researchers, scientists, and technologist leaders from various disciplines within the ecosystem of academia and industry, to produce significant outputs and deal with projections, analysis of data, intelligent analysis and takeaways. The “Street Light” Policy – a system of colours has also been introduced to deal with specific regions, and geographical zones, which are coloured daily by the average of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) results observed within seven days. A software system has also been developed to connect through all kind of interfaces to the various Israeli healthcare, systems that deal with gathering the data, analysing automatically and putting together to colour street light system; which are later used by the Executives for decision making.
In Argentina, a number of tools like massive production of low cost diagnostic test based on isothermal amplification method and antibody test, the alternative to conventional real time PCR, polyclonal antibodies therapies, research on convalescent plasma, deploy genome sequence networks, create software applications for mobile phones and develop nanotechnology based personal protection equipment for healthcare workers are being funded among other initiatives. A clinical trial is underway to test hyperimmune horse siren to create passive immunisation of infected individuals. Argentina is also collaborating with Mexico to jointly manufacture AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s adenovirus-based vaccine at no profit starting in the first half of 2021.
In Belarus, the artificial intelligence system has been developed and implemented, which collects and systemises the analysis of data on the epidemiological situation related to the spread of infection daily. The medical technologies like the assessment of airiness of the lungs, the air of the area of the lesion, the presence of glass foci and spread along with the methods of complex diagnostics are used for the stratification of patients by severity
The research institutes in Brazil are working on the different ways of vaccine development, focusing on clinical trials to understand the efficacy and effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutics. Some of the initiatives in medicine such as the drug repositioning in structural biology and development of the nitrogen generation of nucleotide are promising. A bio-bank has been established to sequence the virus in more than 15 institutions across the country. Brazil has invested in improving its infrastructure, including in multilateral international collaborations like BRICS. Bulgarian Government has developed a dedicated science portal to follow news in the field of S&T and development of vaccines globally. On the vaccine front, Institute of Microbiology is working with Pasteur institute in France along with Belarus and China.
Croatia has been contributing to the COVID-19 research data platform and all the other platforms rose by the European Union. The Centre for Excellence for Research in Virus Immunology and Vaccines is involved in developing novel immunotherapeutic approaches targeting SARS-CoV-2, based on both vaccine vectors and monoclonal antibodies, in collaboration with the colleagues from Israel and Germany.
Mr Paola Pisano, Minister of Technological Innovation and Digitization, Italy stated that since his country was the first country in Europe to experience the worsts of the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic, Italy has introduced a variety of social, economic and technological initiatives to tackle the pandemic. One of the initiatives “Digital Solidarity” offered free digital services to citizens living in containment zones, especially to schools and universities. The initiative “Innovation for Italy” joined the companies, universities, public and private research centres to experiment innovative way to combat covid-19. Another initiative was to identify the best “Technological and Digital solutions” ready to be applied.
In another initiative, the European Commission has set up an interoperability gateway service linking national applications across Europe. By this initiative, users will only need to install only one application. They will be able to report a positive infection test or receive an alert even if they travel abroad. EU is making an effort to help to reduce the economic damage of COVID-19 pandemic and are promoting the national cloud system and digitalising things for all.
Germany is funding for COVID-19 research projects covering all types of innovative research from basic research over clinical trials to social science. It supports imperial German vaccine developers in speeding in their development process and in ramping up their production capacities. Germany is also committed to multilateral joint clinical trials, for example, WHO solidarity trial and the EU discovery trial.
In Guatemala, a presidential commission led by doctors, scientists and officials support the action mechanisms, measures and protocols for the prevention and mitigation of COVID-19, especially for scientific research through the measurement of immune-globulins. In Honduras government has created a unique online portal for improving the time of response the government services during this pandemic among other initiatives such as automation for processes for instance brand registry, credit requests for SMEs, national authentication of documents, business operation permits digital license check for police.
In Hungary, a core group has been launched in their country, which focuses on the start-ups, innovative small and medium enterprises to develop innovative and rapid approaches to respond to COVID-19. The Hungarian experts and researchers actively participating in EU high level provide task force and its operative subgroups. The Hungarian Government is also contributing to coronavirus global response organised by the European Commission for vaccine development purposes.
Peru has funded initiatives from public and private research institutions to develop projects such as rapid PCR tests, surveillance and e-health mechanisms, different kind of vaccines, and treatments among other initiatives to develop their indigenous capacity. Peru is also developing cabinet nano-corps to neutralise the vitals in-house respiration and ventilation devices. Research has been done to generate information on molecular epidemiology characteristic of this virus as well as new disinfection processes from surfaces among other S&T based solutions. Peru has been implementing conduction of phase 3 tests of foreign vaccines along with bolstering their domestic capacity.
Some examples of ground-breaking research in Poland include the idea of pooling based SARS-COV-2 to testing allowed screening how widespread the virus is within a given population especially in high density areas, e.g. companies, factories, universities and schools. They are also working on a unique project to analyse the image down to the smallest particles and even prepare an algorithm to support the diagnostics using X-ray.
Based on the invitation of the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Slovenian research agency has started co-financing bilateral and trilateral research projects on covid-19 to study the information of proteins and their impact and various disease using most advanced simulation techniques and computer techniques of distributed computing. A new national HPC (high performance computing) centre is created with the European Union, which is the largest public prototype supercomputer in Slovenia and contributes about 3000 computing courses to the projects related to the covid-19. They are planning to invest in national NMR centre where 1 GHz spectrometer will be installed which will increase the research capacity not only for COVID-19 but also for other research activities in the field of medicine and future pandemics as well.
Spain has fostered research projects on animal models for experimentation to practice the genetic manipulation of animals to have better animal models and vaccines and one group is quite advanced in developing vaccines for veterinary use. Twelve vaccine projects that are being funded, 5 of them already has prototyped and are expected to go for clinical trials at the end of the year. The Swedish Government has taken several measures to lessen the economic effects and to stabilise it with the participation of Swedish society. Along with this, Sweden research groups have joined forces with other researchers and companies all over the world for rapid development of a new vaccine.
Most of the countries like Israel, Germany, Russia, Peru, Guatemala, Sweden, Hungary, Spain etc. are focusing on S&T and biomedical research. Several countries have opened the calls for diagnostics, medicine and vaccine research on COVID-19. They are also taking several measures such as the implementation of lockdown in containment zones, use of masks and gloves, hand sanitisation, developing software for early detection of the infection and also to aware the citizens about the pandemic through apps or portals.
India has taken initiatives and joined hands together with other countries through bilateral and multilateral platforms. Some multilateral (BRICS, ASEAN and EU calls) and bilateral project calls (with US, Australia, Slovenia, Portugal etc.) were launched to prepare together against the pandemic. The cooperation would undoubtedly be beneficial for finding solutions which could benefit the international community.
As a consequence of COVID, the financial constraints of the S&T budget might reduce the availability of publically allocated funds. Therefore, it is required to create synergies and foster international cooperation to ensure the financial sustainability of research across the globe with an emphasis on developing economies. Open science is enabling the world scientific community to access to research data publications, S&T based collaboration, and other available mechanisms which are conductive to bridge the gap among scientists.
Sanjeev Kumar Varshney* and Charu Agarwal#
*Adviser & Head, #Scientist, Department of Science & Technology, Govt of India
Disclaimer: This work has been submitted by the author. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors only.