The World Health Organization has studied previous disease outbreaks, and as COVID-19 began to spread, the agency activated its R&D Blueprint to help accelerate research into understanding the virus as well as vaccine and treatment development. The Blueprint served as a call to speed up the research and development process while organizing a global coordination to make sure scientists and other medical professionals had access to necessary tools to improve the global response. After scientists from around the world met in mid-February 2020, two goals were set. First, scientists vowed to accelerate research into the virus in hopes of slowing the pandemic. Second, they promised to support research of the current public health crisis to then find ways to better prepare for a hypothetical future scenario of such magnitude.
The enacting of the WHO’s R&D Blueprint and the subsequent race to learn as much about the virus as possible and develop a suitable vaccine to help end the pandemic is a perfect example of a successful research and development collaboration. Experts estimate that approximately $7.5 billion was raised for research on COVID-19 and development of treatments, $2 billion of which came from international initiatives. This may seem impressive, but these initiatives only raised such money because of the pandemic, but outside of a pressing crisis, such initiatives likely remain underfunded. With the new developments that the world has seen as scientists, medical experts, and nations as a whole came together to fight the virus, it becomes clear that changes must be made going forward to guarantee that the Research and Development Industry can prosper on a regular basis, not simply in crisis-driven climates.
As the world emerges on the other side of the pandemic, societies in general are looking to establish more sustainable practices going forward. For example, the European Commission has created the New European Bauhaus, an initiative to work with members of both the science and arts sectors, allowing them to form ideas and create ways to bridge the gap between research and culture. This initiative will also strive to find ways for Europeans to live more sustainable lives after the pandemic. While the concept is hopeful, the execution brings many concerns. This, along with countless other research and development efforts on domestic and global levels, require major revisions to existing infrastructures, and a strong support of research and development programs is key. Current global policies are not prepared to support these kinds of incentives, and a lack of government-funded research creates other potential roadblocks. While achieving resolutions is incredibly important, all parties involved must first create unified plans on how to actually achieve them.
In the case of the New European Bauhaus, many hypothetical players do not know exactly how they would actually factor into it. Universities and research associations, two groups that can provide a great deal of support in growing the movement, do not know how or if their resources could be used. Concerns about budgeting are also on the rise, with scientists wondering where funding will come from when they often have to fight for budgets to barely cover pressing projects. Even if research is done, some worry how easily any new concepts will be accepted by the general public. In the United Kingdom, the lines between the biopharmaceutical and medical technology industries have continuously blurred, and the connection has helped further medical advancements, both with COVID-19 and beyond. But even though these industries develop critical and widely-used innovations, it still takes efforts and collaboration to achieve them.
There is no concrete way to tell how the WHO’s R&D Blueprint influenced where the world currently is in the fight against COVID-19, but the quick and coordinated response undoubtedly helped move research and development along at a much faster pace than it could have moved. Other research and development initiatives should receive the same interest and coordinated effort. While some initiatives may not be as substantial as finding a pandemic-ending vaccine, they still have great benefits to their respective industries, and could be a stepping stone to an even greater development. As the world’s everyday landscape changes as the pandemic draws closer to an end, governments and organizations should look to their coordinated efforts to stop COVID-19 and find ways to apply similar coordinated efforts on different scales. By creating a unified plan, the European Commission could see the New European Bauhaus move from planning stages to development quicker. With government funding, smaller businesses could contribute to necessary research into sustainability efforts. But, only by providing the Research and Development Industry proper resources and attention will successful efforts emerge.
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