Research in the time of Covid-19


23 Apr 2020393 Views

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SFI deputy director general Ciarán Seoighe explains how the State agency will support Irish research stepping up to the challenges of Covid-19.

Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on people and economies, but all over the world tens of thousands of scientists, engineers and innovators are mobilising to fight back. While our medical colleagues continue to deal with the crisis on the frontlines and scale up to handle increasing patient numbers, the scientific community is working in parallel on providing long-term and sustainable solutions.

Already there are vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in development, not to mention an ever-increasing body of new scientific knowledge in the form of data, analysis and thousands of international publications. Countries, companies and philanthropic organisations have come together to make substantial and rapid research funds available in the fight against Covid-19.

In fact, if there is one silver lining to take away from the Covid-19 crisis, it is the way the world has been galvanised to collaborate in new ways to mitigate and manage this virus. Nowhere is this truer than in Ireland where, for the first time, the country’s major research and innovation agencies have joined forces under a common banner to fight Covid-19.

‘If there’s one thing we take away from the current pandemic, it’s the vital importance of a vibrant and potent research system’

Through the Covid-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation Funding call, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is collaborating with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the Health Research Board and the Irish Research Council to provide funding for innovative solutions from academia and industry. The call is designed to be highly adaptive and to operate at pace.

There has been a tremendous response with several exciting applications already. Working closely with our colleagues in the other funding agencies, we hope to unlock the potential of the Irish research, development and innovation (RD&I) system.

Funding is just one part of SFI’s Five Point Plan to help address the Covid-19 crisis. In order to have a magnifier effect on the crisis there are other complementary elements to consider, namely:

  • Collating information: There is a vast amount of new scientific and technical information related to Covid-19 globally and, in order to minimise rework, SFI has created three information portals that provide quick access to the latest published information, ongoing research and other funding sources.
  • Problem curation: Solving any problem starts with first carefully defining the problem and then articulating the problem to those who are best placed to address it. At SFI we are leveraging our experience in challenge-based funding and working across the RD&I system to help focus research and innovation where it can have most impact.
  • Make connections: In many ways we find that the most important role SFI can play is in helping connect experts, innovators, ideas and equipment from academia and industry. We have been inundated with offers of support from individuals, higher education institutes and companies, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to make new connections.
  • Collaborative engagement: Circling back to where I started, a silver lining from the Covid-19 crisis is the way the world has been motivated to work together against a common enemy. Collaborative engagement is about bringing the best of Ireland’s broad RD&I system to bear on this problem.

While there may still be a long road to travel with Covid-19, and many uncertainties along the way, it is good to know that thousands of the best minds in the world are working on the problem.

Scientists are focusing on immediate solutions like treatments and tests and how to mitigate the current challenges of Covid-19. They are also looking at long-term solutions that will enable us to sustainably beat Covid-19 and future pandemics.

Science is the key to getting world economies moving again and if there’s one thing we can take away from the current pandemic, it’s the vital importance of a vibrant and potent research system.

By Ciarán Seoighe

Ciarán Seoighe is deputy director general of Science Foundation Ireland, the national foundation for investment in scientific and engineering research in Ireland.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.