From Science to Practice: Was the Pandemic an Accelerator?

Partner Event hosted by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research; Harald zur Hausen, Johanna Gassler; Moderator: Eva Schernhammer

Tuesday, 29 June 2021
07:15 - 08:30 hrs CEST


The recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has triggered unprecedented changes in the lives and livelihoods of people around the globe, many of which will endure. In medicine and public health in particular, the challenges of containing a deadly, highly infectious virus have set the stage for innovation and, out of necessity, an acceleration of diagnostic, preventive, and therapeutic advances. These included the introduction of a vaccine within less than 12 months of the first COVID-19 cases becoming known in Europe, with European researchers playing a key role in its development and based on a never-before-used novel vaccine technology with great potential for future applications. Emergency funding opportunities, home-office and web-meetings that enabled broad international collaboration, and online pre-review publication opportunities (e.g., MedRxive) have generated a wealth of knowledge that has been rapidly translated into applied approaches to combating the pandemic. These developments have ushered in a new era of accelerated science.

I will discuss with the panel participants:

1. Pandemic as an Accelerator: The obvious benefits, but also potential pitfalls, of such accelerated science, reflecting on the events of the past 18 months and extending them to future developments. Examples to be explored include a) the development of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly mRNA vaccines, and their use for future applications, e.g. in cancer prevention/treatment; b) the use of clinical trial designs such as adaptive and pragmatic trials, and their application in exploring therapeutic options for COVID-19 and beyond; c) novel SARS-CoV-2 testing strategies (rapid Ag tests versus PCR assays); and d) the uncertainties in modeling disease projections in real time. We will discuss successes and failures, and lessons learned to date.

Areas where recent developments are likely to contribute to future acceleration may be health-related, but also social, political, and even global (think, for example, of the One Health approach).

2. Science diplomacy: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of scientific expertise and the challenges scientists face in contributing to complex decisions. For science to contribute to evidence-based policy, scientists must accept diplomacy as an essential aspect of their professional role. Together, we will discuss how scientists helped shape evidence-based policy decisions during the pandemic, and what needs to be done to (re)establish an appropriate framework for coordination and regain the trust that such a social system needs to function effectively. We will discuss how this relates to changing professional ethos and training strategies to include inter- and transdisciplinary approaches, a deeper awareness of issues of equity, diversity, and justice, and a willingness to address the challenges of the global future.

Johanna Gassler
Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), Austria

Harald zur Hausen, Nobel Laureate Physiology or Medicine, 2008
German Cancer Research Center, Germany

Moderator: Eva Schernhammer
Medical University of Vienna, Austria

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