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How is R&D helping the fight against COVID-19?

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With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus sending panic around the globe it may well seem as if the world is on the back foot in our fight against it.

However, R&D tax credit specialists, RIFT Research and Development Ltd, has looked at how R&D is helping in the fight against it, not only as a result of current investment but learnings from previous outbreaks over the last decade in particular.

In the last 10 years, there have been as many as 10 pandemic or epidemic outbreaks with notable death tolls, ranging from the Flu pandemic (influenza) in 2009 to multiple cholera and measles outbreaks, Ebola, swine flu and the current Coronavirus.

While the Coronavirus is a cause of concern at present, HIV/Aids (36.2%), Tuberculosis (17.7%) and the main strain of Malaria (9.3%) remain the diseases receiving the largest sums of R&D investment when it comes to the fight against them.

However, the Coronavirus is just the third disease seen in the last decade to spread on a global scale and will no doubt see a huge sum invested in R&D, although thankfully it remains near the bottom of the table where the death toll is concerned.

But how is R&D helping to combat it to keep it that way?

Reactive measures are the largest area of R&D investment in relation to epidemic or pandemic risk diseases with vaccines to treat these emerging threats seeing the largest degree of R&D investment in the last 10 years. £9,088,000 to be exact, accounting for a notable 34.7% of all investment in the area.

However, work is always ongoing and the basic research around these diseases has seen the second largest proportion of investment (22.1%), while drugs to treat those infected have seen the third largest level of investment with at 21%.

But it isn’t just treatment and medicine that R&D enables. In 2000, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Unit was founded, a technical collaboration of institutions that pools resources via a range of networks when responding to outbreaks of international importance.

The same year GAVI the vaccine alliance was also founded which greatly improved access to vaccines and immunisation.

In 2005, the International Health Regulation formed an international law to prevent, control and respond to disease, while in 2013 an alliance called GloPID-R was formed which brings together funding organisations to enable research within just 48 hours of a major outbreak showing pandemic potential.

Other disease-specific R&D frameworks have also been formed in that time but perhaps the most significant was the creation of the R&D Blueprint in 2016. This delivered a global strategy and preparedness plan designed to facilitate the rapid mobilisation of all R&D disease prevention activities during an outbreak. Its role is to fast track effective tests, vaccines, and medicines in order to fight an outbreak as soon as possible, saving lives, stopping the spread and preventing a major crisis.

When it comes to the spread of Coronavirus in the UK, we can rest a little easier than most. The UK has seen the second-largest percentage of total funding in the fight against neglected diseases in the last decade (8.8%) – second only to the U.S.

Director of RIFT Research and Development Limited, Sarah Collins commented: 

“An unknown and rapid outbreak of disease like the Coronavirus is a real cause for worry and at ground level, we should all take the necessary precautions to do our bit in the fight against it.

However, thanks to previous R&D learnings and investment into vaccines, research and medicines, we are in a far better place to tackle this outbreak than we might otherwise have been 10 years ago.

While R&D investment on the frontline fight is essential, the infrastructure we now have in place to deliver these vaccines, medication, and knowledge on a global scale means we can reduce the number of those affected dramatically and at least slow the pace of the outbreak until it is under control.

As with all areas of R&D, this isn’t a temporary focus and the fight against pandemic disease outbreaks will continue, although we hope its application in a real-world scenario remains a rarity.”

Recent pandemics/epidemics by largest estimated death toll (2009-2019)
Year/period
Information
Location
Estimated death toll
2008–2009
Cholera
Zimbabwe
4,293
2009
Flu pandemic (influenza)
Worldwide
203,000
2010–present
Cholera
Hispaniola/Haiti
9,985 (May 2017)
2011–present
Measles
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
> 4,500 (February 2014)
2013–2016
Ebola virus
Worldwide – primarily West Africa
> 11,300
2015
Swine flu
India
2,035
2016–present
Cholera
Yemen
3,886 (November 2019)
August 2018–present
Kivu Ebola epidemic
Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda
2,253 (February 2020)
2019–present
Measles
Democratic Republic of the Congo
5,000 (November 2019)
2019–present
Coronavirus
Worldwide
2,701 (February 2020)
Top 10 R&D investments by disease (2009-2018)
By disease type
R&D Investment (£ millions)
% of total
HIV / AIDS
9,479
36.2%
Tuberculosis
4,645
17.7%
P. falciparum – the main type of malaria
2,437
9.3%
Multiple/other malaria strains
1,747
6.7%
Core funding of multi-disease / neglected diseases
1,173
4.5%
Dengue
639
2.4%
S. pneumoniae
541
2.1%
P. vivax
466
1.8%
Other neglected disease R&D
459
1.8%
Rotavirus
425
1.6%
Other
4,167
15.9%
TOTAL
26,179
100.0%
Top 10 investments by type of R&D in relation to epidemic risk diseases (2009-2019)
Type of R&D
R&D Investment (£ millions)
% of total
Vaccines
9,088
34.7%
Basic Research
5,774
22.1%
Drugs
5,496
21.0%
Unspecified
2,514
9.6%
Microbicides
1,358
5.2%
Diagnostics
1,147
4.4%
Chemical vector control products
241
0.9%
Biological vector control products
189
0.7%
Adjuvants and immunomodulators
108
0.4%
General diagnostic platforms
106
0.4%
Other
158
0.6%
TOTAL
26,179
100.0%

 

Examples – milestones in R&D related to epidemics
Year
R&D Milestones
2000
GOARN founded (Global Outbreak Alert and Response Unit) – a technical collaboration of institutions and networks to pool resources when responding to ‘outbreaks of international importance’
GAVI created (Vaccine alliance) – to greatly improve access to vaccines and immunisation
2005
International Health Regulations (IHR) formed as an international law to prevent, control, and respond to international disease
SARS disease – rapid R&D – 20 months from sequence selection to ‘first in human studies’
2011
PIP Framework – Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Network brings together member states, industry, and the WHO to ‘implement a global approach to pandemic influenza preparedness’
2013
GloPID-R – an alliance that brings together funding organisations to enable research within 48hours of a major outbreak with pandemic potential
2015
Ebola therapeutics trial – although it did not meet the prespecified threshold for efficacy, it was beneficial and contributed to further R&D progress
Ebola vaccine – research and development helps to trial a vaccine with high protection
2016
R&D blueprint – a global strategy and preparedness plan designed to facilitate the rapid mobilisation of R&D activities during epidemics. It helps to fast track effective tests, vaccines, and medicines in an aim to save lives and avoid a major crisis.
2017
CEPI launched (The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) – a partnership of public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisation that aims to encourage, finance, and coordinate vaccine development for emerging infectious diseases.
Zika virus – 100 days from viral sequence selection to human studies = fast R&D response
2018
Ebola therapeutics trial – the first multi-drug, multi-site, multi-country ebola drugs trial
Sources:

 

 

Investments in relation to neglected disease R&D – by country
R&D Investment (£ millions) – GBP
Country
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
% of total public funding (2018)
United States
1,152.8
1,104.6
1,042.7
1,116.4
1,006.7
961.4
992.1
1,196.0
1,266.8
1,334.5
68.4%
United Kingdom
84.0
93.2
72.3
51.1
71.0
70.5
62.2
77.8
153.0
172.5
8.8%
EC
78.9
62.2
71.7
62.5
75.5
70.5
92.3
62.9
97.1
100.5
5.2%
Germany
22.4
24.6
20.6
35.3
29.4
30.4
36.6
37.0
54.4
54.8
2.8%
India
18.0
27.8
29.9
30.3
35.8
26.1
31.4
40.7
59.0
49.5
2.5%
France
31.4
26.5
38.7
34.7
51.8
40.1
43.2
38.5
38.8
33.0
1.7%
Australia
16.7
18.8
22.5
29.0
15.3
21.9
13.7
17.0
19.4
27.0
1.4%
Japan
4.0
6.1
2.2
1.6
7.0
6.7
9.2
12.6
14.0
24.8
1.3%
Netherlands
18.0
12.3
15.6
10.1
15.3
11.5
3.5
18.5
19.4
15.8
0.8%
Switzerland
5.6
9.7
9.4
10.7
10.9
11.5
13.7
14.1
14.0
12.8
0.7%
Canada
11.5
6.2
6.0
11.4
12.8
7.9
6.5
5.3
10.1
11.3
0.6%
South Africa
4.7
5.1
4.4
3.6
8.3
2.7
4.5
8.9
11.7
9.8
0.5%
TOTAL public funding
1,567.0
1,502.2
1,427.5
1,481.8
1,419.2
1,315.5
1,375.6
1,629.2
1,852.4
1,949.6
100.0%