Research Priorities

COVID-19 : Targeted research priorities

In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, the international scientific community has set out research priorities, during the Global Research Forum on research and innovation for COVID-19. This meeting, held on 11-12 February 2020 was organized by WHO, in collaboration with the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response (GLOPID-R) –an international network of funders to facilitate coordination and information sharing.

Using the R&D Blueprint strategy as a framework, the aim was to coordinate and accelerate global research work to target diseases that threaten humanity, develop diagnostics, medicines and vaccines fast, and promptly respond to outbreaks thereby preventing epidemics. The final strategy sets out 9 targeted research priorities.

  • Virus: natural history, transmission and diagnostics
    • Support development of diagnostic products to improve clinical processes;
    • Understand virus compartments, shedding and natural history of disease;
    • Develop tools and conduct studies to monitor phenotypic change and potential adaptation;
    • Characterize immunity (naturally acquired, population and vaccine-induced, including mucosal immunity);
    • Develop disease models (animal models and 3Rs approaches);
    • Virus stability in the environment.
  • Animal and environmental research on the virus origin, and management measures at the human-animal interface
    • Identify animal source and route of transmission (hosts, any evidence of continued spill over to humans and transmission between animals and humans);
    • Improve understanding of socioeconomic and behavioural risk factors for spill over and transmission between animals and humans (identify the risks linked to trade and consumption of potentially infected animal species and the communities or occupational groups more at risk across different interfaces);
    • Design and test suitable risk reduction strategies at the human-animal-environment interface, accordingly (limit infection in high risk areas and for at risk populations and the public).
  • Epidemiological studies
    • Describe transmission dynamics of COVID-19 and understand spread of disease nationally, regionally and globally (relative importance of pre-symptomatic/ asymptomatic transmission, identify suitable cohorts and prospectively collect laboratory and outcome data);
    • Describe disease severity and susceptibility to facilitate effective clinical and public health response to COVID-19 (groups at high risk of severe infection, role of different age groups in transmission, household and serologic studies, retrospective review of hospital admissions and patient recovery data);
    • Evaluate impact of control and mitigation measures (predict the most effective measures to reduce the peak burden on healthcare providers and other societal functions, estimate the effects of social distancing measures and other non-pharmaceutical interventions on transmissibility, modelling research, prospective study in school/work and other closed settings, comparative analysis/impact assessment for intervention measures).
  • Clinical management
    • Define the natural history of COVID-19 infection (Prognostic factors for severe disease, special populations, triage and clinical processes, sampling strategy);
    • Determine interventions that improve the clinical outcome of COVID-19 infected patients (viral load, disease and transmissibility, markers of protection);
    • Determine optimal clinical practice strategies to improve the processes of care (Improve processes of care, including early diagnosis, discharge criteria, optimal adjuvant therapies for patients and contacts);
    • Determine how best to link key research questions with researchers in affected regions who are able to recruit patients;
    • Develop platform(s) to maximize commonality of data collection across trials, and collaborations between trials.
  • Infection prevention and control, including health care workers’ protection
    • Understand the effectiveness of movement control strategies to prevent secondary transmission in health care and community settings (Effectiveness of restriction of movement of healthy exposed and infected persons to prevent secondary transmission – home, congregate setting, geographical restriction vs nothing);
    • Optimize the effectiveness of PPE and its use in reducing the risk of transmission in health care and community settings;
    • Minimize the role of the environment in transmission of the COVID-19 virus;
    • Understand behavioural and cultural factors influencing compliance with evidence-based IPC measures.
  • Candidate therapeutics R&D
    • Identification of candidates for clinical evaluation in addition to the ones already prioritized;
    • Multicentre Master Protocol to evaluate efficacy and safety;
    • Coordinated collaboration to implement clinical trials, for evaluation of safety/efficacy of therapeutic.
  • Candidate vaccines R&D
    • Identification of candidates for clinical evaluation in addition to the ones already prioritized;
    • To develop a multi-country Master Protocol for Phase 2b/Phase 3 vaccine evaluation to determine whether candidate vaccines are safe and effective before widespread distribution, using methodologically sound and ethically acceptable vaccine trial design. Vaccine efficacy trials should be done if such are feasible to implement.
  • Ethics considerations for research
    • To enable the identification of key knowledge gaps and research priorities. (Articulate and translate existing ethical standards to salient issues in COVID-19, The impact of restrictive public health measures (e.g., quarantine, isolation, cordon sanitaire);
    • To formulate a clearly defined research governance framework which enables effective and ethical collaboration between multiple stakeholders, including WHO, the global research community, subject matter experts, public health officials, funders, and ethicists;
    • Sustained education, access, and capacity building to facilitate effective cross-working and collaboration across the research thematic areas.
  • Social sciences in the outbreak response
    • Generate high-quality evidence to achieving the goals of the strategic public health response plan;
    • Promote the prioritization of knowledge needs according to epidemic dynamics;
    • Promote that knowledge is produced according to local, national and regional needs;
    • Promote that knowledge outputs and methodological limitations are easily understood by non-social scientists;
    • To develop and employ strong methodologies and theoretical frameworks to tackle current epidemic challenges;
    • Develop innovative interdisciplinary science;
    • Develop guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to operationalized epidemic mitigation mechanisms;
    • Develop and connect global research networks with response partner;
    • Engage with communities to bring their voices to decision-making processes;
    • To understand non-intended consequences of epidemic-control decisions;
    • Understand contextual vulnerability;
    • Understand how decisions in the field may inadvertently undermine response goals;
    • Understand how social and economic impacts can be mitigated.