News Release

Reviewing the NIH-led research response to COVID-19

Reports and Proceedings

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Though the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, “it is not too soon to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the research response and some of the lessons that can be learned,” say researchers including Francis Collins, the most recent director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), in this Policy Forum. One of the major successes in this space was the development and emergency use authorization of two mRNA vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in just 11 months from the first identification of the pathogen; most other vaccines have taken at least a decade to develop. Further successes in the U.S.-led COVID-19 research effort included improving diversity in clinical trials and prioritizing the evaluation of therapeutic agents beyond vaccines, which enabled the rapid development of monoclonal antibodies and small-molecule antiviral drugs. Streamlining the development of diagnostic tests was also crucial; it led to the rapid development and roll-out of crucially needed COVID-19 tests to the public, which played a large role in understanding and mitigating SARS-CoV-2 transmission. In the Policy Forum, the authors also note continued and ongoing challenges, including a need to better understand “Long Covid.” They conclude by reflecting on how it takes more than individual ingenuity and hard work for biomedical research to respond swiftly and effectively to a rapidly emerging public health challenge. “Perhaps the most valuable lesson that COVID-19 has taught the research community – and hopefully society more broadly – is the importance of collective effort and continuous investment in basic and applied research,” write Collins et al.

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