In view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has underlined the need for long-term, knowledge-driven basic research.
Like all infectious diseases, the current coronavirus pandemic can be tackled all the more effectively the better we understand the pathogen and its effects on humans. This requires comprehensive long-term research, with the aim of understanding the genetic, biological, environmental, medical and socio-economic factors associated with an outbreak of this kind. Everything we currently know about the coronavirus, including diagnostic methods and possible treatment approaches, ultimately derives from the results of basic research.”
Professor Dr. Katja Becker, President of Germany’s largest research funding organization
Becker, who before taking office as DFG President in January was involved in malaria research in West Africa and elsewhere, also called for more intensive international cooperation. “Close communication between scientists, governments, the public and businesses, as well as a cooperative, coordinated approach between countries is essential. This is the only way for researchers and clinicians to efficiently share knowledge and learn from each other, and the only way to effectively limit the spread of the virus and its impacts on many areas of our lives. In the case of a pandemic like this, it is no longer about competition, whether in research or in other areas of society. It is about cooperation, anticipatory action, solidarity and ensuring protection for those who need it most.”
The DFG is already funding approximately 20 research projects and larger-scale research groups on coronaviruses and the infectivity and genetic diversity of viruses, with a total of around €18 million per year. Examples include CRC/Transregio (CRC/TRR) 84 “Innate Immunity of the Lung: Mechanisms of Pathogen Attack and Host Defence in Pneumonia”, which is based in Berlin, Giessen and Marburg and has been funded since 2010, the Heidelberg-based CRC 1129 “Integrative Analysis of Pathogen Replication and Spread” and CRC 1021 “RNA Viruses: RNA Metabolism, Host Response and Pathogenesis” in Marburg, which have been funded since 2014 and 2013, respectively.
Other research collaborations concerned with questions relating to coronaviruses and novel viral diseases include Priority Programme (PP) 1596 “Ecology and Species Barriers in Emerging Viral Diseases”, led by Berlin-based virologist Professor Dr. Christian Drosten, which has been funded since 2013 and is about to be concluded; Clinical Research Unit (KFO) 309 “Virus-Induced Lung Injury: Pathobiology and Novel Therapeutic Strategies” in Giessen, funded since 2016; and individual projects, for instance within the framework of the DFG’s Africa Initiative for Infectiology.
In addition to ongoing research projects, the DFG is currently preparing a call for multidisciplinary research on epidemics and pandemics. Funding will be offered for research projects on the fundamental biological and medical aspects of a pathogen, preventive measures and therapeutic methods, and the psychological, social, cultural, legal and ethical implications associated with the emergence, spread and treatment of epidemics and pandemics. Impacts on global and regional economic development, production and value creation chains, logistics, transport and communication will also be examined. Interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and cooperation should play a key role. The call is expected to be presented and published before the end of March.