Mapping the COVID-19 research landscape: How tracking medical research funding has accelerated in the pandemic

The UKCDR and GloPID-R COVID-19 Research Project Tracker provides an open dataset and user friendly analysis of thousands of pandemic-related research projects funded since the start of 2020, covering work in 100 countries.

MRC Director of Strategic Evaluation and Impact, Dr Ian Viney MBE, highlights how the tracking of research projects has accelerated and become more globally-connected in the pandemic, to better support the rapid pace of worldwide discovery and clinical research.

Europe PubMed Central (EPMC) has launched a new online grant finder tool to include a global dataset of COVID-19 projects. This new tool takes data from the UK Collaborative for Development Research (UKCDR) and Global Research Collaboration For Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) COVID-19 Research Project Tracker, the most comprehensive international open dataset of pandemic-related research projects.

In a world dominated by coronavirus stories, the launch of a new way to search research projects may not be headline news. But funding agencies have always sought to focus limited resources on the most pressing problems, to fill important knowledge gaps and avoid duplicating efforts. In a funding environment with hundreds of organisations, we need resources such as EPMC; an open science platform that collects together research awards and publications from trusted sources around the world, accessed by over 12 million users and increasingly drawn on by other freely available and proprietary systems used to further analyse research funding.

Compiling research portfolios takes time, with results typically running a year or more behind when awards are made[i]. Although UKRI sets a great example in making its research portfolio publicly accessible via the UKRI Gateway to Research, this resource is only updated monthly and many other funders do not provide portfolios in a machine readable format. However, when the pandemic began it was clear that agencies worldwide would ramp up efforts to support COVID-19 research and innovation to accelerate treatments, preventative measures and to understand the social and economic impacts. At the time, we knew little about the virus, its transmission, detection and pathology. In short, the pandemic research landscape was expected to change rapidly, and many new awards were made quickly, with early awards focused on delivering results ideally within six to twelve months.

With funding agencies working non-stop to support pandemic-related research, it was anticipated that a global overview of funding would become important. The COVID-19 Research Project Tracker by UKCDR and GloPID-R took an early lead in March 2020, usefully categorising all projects against the WHO roadmap for COVID-19 research. The MRC has ensured that details of UKRI projects are submitted as soon as possible to this dataset and has written to hundreds of funding agencies worldwide to encourage similar participation. We also proposed linking this dataset to the new COVID-specific grant finder and are grateful to the EPMC team, based at the European Bioinformatics Institute, for creating this tool and colleagues at UKCDR and GloPID-R for help with their dataset.

This collaboration brings a regularly updated funding database of COVID-relevant work to a worldwide audience. The UKCDR and GloPID-R dataset now has details of 1800+ projects, totalling over $700 million from 25+ funding agencies, and it is growing.

Although in March we knew little about COVID-19, it is now increasingly important that funders focus on the gaps and opportunities in this busy research landscape. Globally tracking the research underway will allow resources to be targeted to the best effect, and we now have the tools in place to keep everyone informed.

Image: The UKCDR and GloPID-R COVID-19 Research Project Tracker provides an open dataset and user friendly analysis of thousands of pandemic-related research projects funded since the start of 2020, covering work in 100 countries.


[i] The MRC has led the UK Health Research Analysis report series for more than 15 years, with the most recent report collating details from 146 UK funding agencies of almost £4 billion spent on research in 2018. However the report took a year to complete, published in January 2020.


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