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Funding COVID-19 Research

Emma B. Hodcroft, PhD

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layout: page title: Emergency Lab Funding link: /lab-funding/

Our current funding methods stand a good chance of failing COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 research.

Initiatives across the globe are setting up emergency #hCoV19 funding calls. They vary, but generally promise extra money into a cash-starved system (research). Explicitly & implicitly this encourages a lot of scientists to switch to COVID-19 research - whether appropriate or not. Money is hard to come by in research. Every call - no matter how well or poorly suited - is potentially a few years’ lifeline. Diversity in applications is good! But funding at the best of times is slow as mud. Overload an emergency funding call - while all reviewers are distracted by a pandemic - & it ain’t gonna go faster. Every week feels like a year - what happens while we wait for funding?

Meanwhile, those working on COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 right now are those least able to write grants! Many of these scientists are working unfunded - putting their other work on hold, working without resources - to provide COVID-19 research NOW. Many of these scientists cannot write a grant. Many of them are working all day, every day (including weekends). Grants usually take days - weeks - to prepare. That kind of time is absolutely laughable for COVID-19 researchers at the moment. The lucky among them find a few hours.

Those who don’t have time to write at all get nothing & the work they do now is paid only in their sweat, tears & lost opportunities. Those who scrape together a few hours compete against others who are not doing COVID-19 research now, who are operating more normally and could spend days on it. These researchers at such a disadvantage are the ones who dropped everything to switch to this. They are glad to help. They work willingly. They are called by duty. They are making your models, testing your patients, analysing your data, informing your govts - right now.

And the best outcome for them is a small chance of some money in a crowded field - in a few months. For others, who couldn’t scrape together time to write a grant - nothing. Regardless, they do and will keep going, setting aside all other opportunities & work.

Life isn’t fair. But I, at least, cannot help but look at this & think there must be a better way.

More funding calls requiring different & long-form applications that take months to process are not the answer. Yet each agency in turn strolls out to lay them down. Scientists despair with each because there is no time and yet what choice do we have but to try - because otherwise we struggle on unfunded. So stay up late, work harder, tell them the research has to wait… in a pandemic. Is that what we want to encourage right now?

We need a better way forward for COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 funding.

One way might be to reward work already done - fast-track short applications based on the incredible research done in the past 3 months to continue this work. Scientists have never worked so hard, so openly, so urgently! I know giving out money is fraught. Everyone wants results. Scientists do too! Perhaps a little more trust can be put into the scientists who have proven themselves in last 3 months?

Scientists are doing absolutely incredible things with no funding for #COVID19 #SARSCoV2 at all. Imagine what they could do if the pressures of applications & uncertainty about our futures were lifted!

Let’s try to find a better way. Let’s enable great COVID-19 science.

Survey results

Of 11 responses:

When asked to choose the top 3 reasons that would influence applying for funding:

All were interested in hearing about opportunities to apply for fast-track, short-application funding.