High-profile retractions have highlighted how the conventional model of academic publishing has struggled to keep pace with the race to understand the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The system is ripe for innovation. To that end, an open-access overlay journal known as Rapid Reviews: COVID-19 (RR:C19; see go.nature.com/3fufauw) uses the speed of technology to democratize the review process and strengthen the quality of research.

RR:C19 was launched this year by the MIT Press and the University of California, Berkeley, with support from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation. Scientists, publishers and philanthropic foundations work together to swiftly deploy new models for digitally enabled publishing. The journal promotes rapid and transparent peer review of promising or controversial preprints, as well as dynamic curation of content (see B. M. Stern and E. K. O’Shea PLoS Biol. 17, e3000116; 2019).

Philanthropic foundations have been leaders in funding risky scientific ventures. In our experience, extending that support to advance the publishing process will boost the quality of research and accelerate its dissemination.