Covid-19: “I wish we could see the real activity of French researchers”

After damage to the rapid development of a vaccine against the Sars-Cov-2 virus by researchers and/or companies in France, unlike messenger RNA, the innovative and effective, obtained in record time by BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna… many French scientists on February 2, 2023 At the Sorbonne (see box), he will conclude his research during this Covid-19 crisis. Even their successes, which are not known to the general public, for example, will be highlighted “cell models and animal models”, as highlighted by Thierry Damerval, 21 patents (diagnostic tests, protective devices, immune response, etc.) have been submitted today after the work done during the crisis by about 700 teams. What is striking in retrospect is the mobilization capacity shown by scientists, both in the broad humanitarian and broad fields of infectious disease (virology, epidemiology, immunology, etc.) to conduct research in the “classical” fields of biology. social sciences. Issues of trust (in scientists, research results, etc.), rumours, misinformation and fake news, and radical opposition to vaccination are not the least of the challenges the pandemic has brought to the fore and are important to analyze in order to prepare. will come.

Science and the Future – Research : How has the new president of the Academy of Sciences, Dr. Alain Fischer, adapted to the Covid-19 crisis at a time when we have seen ANR, the French project research funding agency? “Biomedical research in France is in decline with insufficient resources, this strategy is hard to understand…” In a report published by the Terra Nova think tank on January 18?

There was extraordinary mobilization and sensitivity in the preparation and submission of projects by scientists, but also by evaluators with a multidisciplinary scientific committee typical of the ANR, chaired by Antoine Gessain (Institut Pasteur). So we launched the first call for projects on February 26, 2020, and 44 of them started with seed funding on March 25 (the so-called “flash” funding, read box). And this, based on the priorities adopted by the WHO, after reporting the global scale and state of emergency of this new disease that emerged in China at the end of 2019 at the end of January. the world has found itself.

Cell and animal models have developed very rapidly

Therefore, this research is focused on the areas covered by ANR – upstream of vaccine development activities and clinical research. In order to quickly answer questions on prevention, pathophysiology, epidemiology, as well as the very important humanities and social sciences. It was of prime importance to gather information and any information available at the onset of a very rapidly developing disease.

What do you think are the successes of this very early mobilization?

Cell models and animal models were developed very rapidly, the latter being widely used by Roger Legrand’s team (1) by many laboratories at the time. The genetic causes of severe forms of Covid-19 were characterized by Jean-Laurent Casanova’s team as part of a “flash” funding, followed by a second call… Results published Science was considered by Nature As one of the top ten results of 2020.

The “holistic” nature of ANR projects in France

What I would like to see during the symposium is not only to look at the perceived negative element of not taking the vaccine, but also to see the real activity of the French researchers. All the experiences developed in various areas such as vaccine perception, inequalities in the face of Covid, incidence of disease by socio-professional background, screening rate by population… useful experience for public authorities, during and beyond the crisis, on the links between higher research and the transition to clinical research. with emphasis.

Was this work carried out within the framework of international cooperation?

To remain very pragmatic, we have decided not to launch joint calls for projects with our partner agencies who have voluntarily launched their own projects (2). On the other hand, it was decided to exchange recognition for all the work to create successful collaborations with Quebec, Japan… Finally, 43% of the 820 publications on the actions we support. has international co-authors. Analyzing the measures implemented in different countries, the OECD also emphasized the “holistic” nature of the ANR projects in France, taking into account human and social science issues.

Flash research in times of crisis
If it was possible to launch calls for projects very quickly, it is primarily due to the pre-existence of the so-called “flash” device. Thierry Damerval explains: “It was set up to mobilize investigations very quickly during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and to help collect information and data at the center of the event, respond during the crisis and learn lessons afterwards”. Innovation for Covid-19 consisted of calls for sustainable projects for a year and a half (after Flash Covid-19, two other calls called Research-Action Covid-19 and Resilience Covid-19), “Knowing that all projects are designed by researchers (“Researcher-led” – “researcher-initiated”), Director General of ANRS, adapted to an emergency situation and used to support public policy in near real-time”.

During the crisis, fake news, misinformation, and attacks disturbed people’s minds even when serious investigations were being conducted. Were you able to react?

At ANR, we support research and it would not be appropriate for us to be transmitters, the ones most able to communicate were the ones doing the research. It is important to remember that we have signed a call for the immediate release of all research results by 31 January 2020, particularly with the Wellcome Trust who contacted us. Now, after the urgency and pressure of the crisis, we can take the time to learn lessons and better prepare for the future with this symposium, which will bring together the players in the research we support.

Simplification of administrative management

During the Diderot Institute Symposium in June 2022 “new prevention strategies for healthy living and aging”In France, only 18.3% of the 2.2% of GDP allocated to R&D was shown to finance bio-health research, which is already very low compared to the 3% recommended by the Lisbon strategy. Can you change this situation?

Research funding in France has indeed been lower in recent years than in Germany, the USA, South Korea… At ANR, our total budget has grown significantly from 750 million. In 2020, today it will reach 1.2 billion euros. The share of bio-health in ANR is about 35%, which is comparable to the ratio applied at the European level (ERC) in Switzerland (Swiss National Foundation), Germany (DFG). As for the selection rate (projects proposed by the agency and finally supported), it increased from 10% in 2015 to 24% in 2022, with a budget program set by law to be 30% in 2027.

In absolute value, for 1,200 projects supported in 2020, more than 1,700 projects were supported in 2021. And we want to increase the funding (never less than €15,000), which can reach from €100,000 to €1 million per team, with an average of four conditions. years. It should be noted that researchers are no longer required to submit an interim scientific report identifying funding, which simplifies administrative management. We have also created a portal for calls for projects (3) and remember that this is completely free and open research, not prescriptive at all.

What key areas should this “biology-health” research focus on?

Main directions of “One Health” type (“One Health”, People, Animals, Plants, Human Impact on the Environment, Editor’s Note), ecological transition, sustainability science, etc. discussed by research communities, within or between disciplines, in international exchanges… As a research support institute, our role is to accommodate these emerging fields, but not to dictate .

1) Paris-Saclay University, Inserm, CEA. He is scheduled to speak on “Pathogenesis of SARS-Cov-2 infection in a nonhuman primate model: treatment and prevention (tentative title)” on the morning of February 2.

2) With partners joining forces to finance projects, the Foundation for Medical Research, the Fondation de France and several regions. A multidisciplinary consortium bringing together teams and laboratories from Inserm, IRD, Institut Pasteur, CEA, CNRS, Cirad, etc., created in 2013 as part of the REACTing consortium (research and action targeting emerging infectious diseases) . The Ebola crisis.

3) The call for “General projects” is organized in 37 fields (basic scientific fields such as cell biology, developmental biology, neuroscience, mathematics, fundamental physics, etc.). The 19 axes focus on key transitions (environment, energy, etc.), digital transformation, sustainability science and all emerging topics…

February 2, 9 hours with 30 researchers
How has crisis management affected public confidence over the months? What is the genetic basis of severe forms of Covid-19? How to produce scientific knowledge in times of crisis? Organized by the National Research Agency (ANR) at the Sorbonne, the classically titled “Covid-19. Evaluation and research perspectives” (also available online) on February 2 promises to be very busy between ideas on virology, epidemiology. , immunology, etc. but also all the lessons social sciences and humanities professionals have to learn from this major crisis three years after the pandemic began. Among the 30 or so participating French researchers, we will find many regularly approached by journalists from different countries. Science and the Future and Research at the height of the crisis, when they are fully operational in their laboratories or in the hospital, for example Yazdan Yazdanpanah (1), director of ANRS, Dominique Costagliola (Inserm), Paul Bastard (Institut Imagine, Hôpital Necker AP). -HP), Vittoria Colizza (Inserm), Bruno Canard (CNRS) or, of course, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, who chaired the “Covid-19 Scientific Council” created in March 2020, immunologist Brigitte Autran, who is chairing today ” Committee for monitoring and predicting health risks”, also Antoine Flahault (University of Geneva) or Arnaud Fontanet (Institut Pasteur).

1) “Anrs, Infectious Diseases”, established in January 2021, is an autonomous agency of Inserm (Anrs) resulting from the merger of the REACTing consortium and the national agency for AIDS research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *