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I’ll never forget the e-mail I got at 12.49 p.m. on 9 March, telling me I had 48 hours to shut down my molecular oncology lab. I have a team of 24, including postdocs, PhD students, technicians, computational engineers and undergraduates. We study how colon cancer spreads and responds to therapy, using genomics and immunological approaches in vitro and in mouse models. The lab is part of a comprehensive cancer centre in northern Italy, which is experiencing a severe outbreak of coronavirus. The instructions from the institute’s scientific director were clear.