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 said, “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.”