Virtual dialogue highlights the achievements of COVID CIRCLE and future directions for funding and research practices in epidemics and pandemics

On 19 January 2023, UKCDR and GloPID-R celebrated COVID CIRCLE’S achievements and looked at how the initiative may inform future directions in epidemic and pandemic-related research. During this online event, participants shared insights on lessons learnt from funding research during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in low-resource settings, and discussed ways to build on this knowledge going forward.

COVID-19 Research Project Tracker evolves to Pandemic PACT

From 2020 to 2022, COVID CIRCLE (Covid-19 Research Coordination and Learning Initiative) has been a fruitful partnership between the UK Collaborative for Development Research (UKCDR) and GloPID-R. One of the initiative’s key outputs has been the Covid-19 Research Project Tracker. This live database of funded research projects, mapped against the priorities in the WHO Coordinated Global Research Roadmap, has proven instrumental for decisions about research funding during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has confirmed the importance of having an automatic tracking system of key diseases in place so that funders and researchers can rapidly make evidence-based decisions at the outset of a pandemic or epidemic. Today the Project Tracker is evolving into a more agile and powerful tool, Pandemic PACT, which was presented during the virtual dialogue. Based on the lessons learnt over the past two years, this innovative tracking tool is being developed by the GloPID-R Research and Policy Team as a joint GloPID-R/UKCDR project. Pandemic PACT, which stands for “Pandemic Preparedness: Analytical Capacity and funding Tracking programme,” will have the research and analytical capability to collate and analyse global funding data and identify research needs on an ongoing basis to inform policy and support decision making for preparedness and response. Building on the Covid-19 Project Tracker, it is designed to be a wider tool covering additional priority pathogens. Financial contributors to fund this project include Wellcome Trust, EDCTP (with UK DHSC funding), IDRC and ZonMW. Pandemic PACT is expected be operational in 2023.

Lessons for research funders

The January 19 online event was introduced by Maggy Heinz, Executive Director of UKCDR, and participants were welcomed by Marie Staunton, Chair of the Strategic Coherence of ODA-funded Research (SCOR) Board. Researchers Chantel Jones, Adrian Bucher, Emilia Antonio and Daniela Toale presented the two-year COVID CIRCLE Learning Report. With a focus on the research response in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the report provides recommendations for actions by funders today and during future infectious disease outbreaks. Published in January 2023, the report may be downloaded on the UKCDR website.

The need to strengthen regional research prioritization is another key lesson from COVID CIRCLE. In a presentation of the research prioritization outputs, Emilia Antonio highlighted what has been learnt from developing and applying research priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in low-resource settings.

Panel discussion with global research funders

Alice Norton moderated a panel discussion with invited guests from a range of funding organizations: Charles Wiysonge (South African MRC), Choong-Min Ryu (Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology), Jean Marie Habarugira (EDCTP), and Josie Golding (Wellcome Trust). The panellists shared their experience and ideas on topics ranging from the findings of the Learning Report to rapid research mechanisms and the importance of establishing strong relations between global funders and regional stakeholders well ahead of an infectious disease outbreak. In his closing remarks, Charles Wiysonge thanked all of those who have contributed to the success of the COVID CIRCLE and welcomed the start of something bigger. He emphasised that with Pandemic PACT and other new initiatives in 2023, the research community and global funding organizations will be better prepared when the next pandemic strikes.

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The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project which receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101094188.