As a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government (in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2015–16), I am concerned that the country’s premier research assets in biological science are not being effectively coordinated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is delaying potentially important advances that could save lives.
My own research is contributing to the development of coronavirus tests and therapeutics. This gives me insight into how well the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 research is being coordinated.
The government’s UK Research and Innovation organization should be applauded for rapidly freeing up more research funding. However, this and other UK science leaders have stood back from formal coordination of the UK research effort. Instead, they are following the ‘peacetime’ route of allowing academics to self-assemble. This is an inadequate approach in a time of national crisis, in my view.
As we enter the second phase of the pandemic, I urge the United Kingdom to establish a leadership council for coordinating COVID-19 research. This should marshal scientists and social scientists, steer the sharing of information and resources, link disciplines and ensure that academic and commercial researchers work together.
Nature 582, 184 (2020)
Tim R. Dafforn is non-executive director of Linear Diagnostics and a paid consultant to PolyScience.