How Will Open Access Research Help Tackle Future Pandemics?

Introduction
Global Initiatives for Open Access Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic
CORD-19
Data Sharing
The Impact of Open Research on the COVID-19 Pandemic 
The Role of Open Access in Tackling Future Pandemics
References
Further Reading


Open access research has transformed scholarly communication. This is because it has enabled the free flow of scientific information, both new and old, among scientists, which has been extremely useful to their scientific research. The global sharing of research information during the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has significantly expedited the process of the development of vaccines and therapeutics to protect individuals from the disease. 

Medical research

Medical research. Image Credit: metamorworks/Shutterstock.com

Global initiatives for open access research during the COVID-19 pandemic

CORD-19

During the early phase of the pandemic, several scientific institutes collaborated and curated an open-access dataset on COVID-19 research publications, in a standardized machine‐readable format. Some of the institutes involved in this collaborative effort to form the COVID19 Open Research Dataset (CORD19) are the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health, Allen Institute for AI, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), Microsoft, Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). 

At present, CORD‐19 contains over 45,000 articles, which are accessible to all research scholars. To enhance the accessibility and usage of the CORD-19 platform, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) involved tech communities to develop new data mining techniques that can help scientific and medical communities to find authentic and specific information quickly amidst a skyrocketing volume of literature.

Data sharing

Among many organizations, the Open COVID‐19 Data Working Group has been focused on providing accurate data related to COVID-19 patients across the globe, for example, the date of onset of the disease, travel history, and date of hospitalization. The data generated by this organization initiated the development of HealthMap, which presented the current status of the pandemic diffusion with the location at a given point in time.

Harvard, Boston Children's Hospital, and the volunteers from the IT industry created the “Covid Near You” application based on public data on COVID-19. This application provided information on COVID-19 hotspots in real-time.

Multiple open access databases, e.g., Europe PubMed Central (PMC), PubMed's LitCovid, ClinicalTrials, and WHO COVID‐19 research article databases helped scientists to gather information on recent findings related to COVID-19 disease.

Other open-access databases, such as National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Virus and Public Health Genomics and Precision Health Knowledge Base (PHGKB), allow scientists to screen, retrieve, and study SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences.

Medical research

Medical research. Image Credit: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock.com

The impact of open research on the COVID-19 pandemic 

Scientists have been working relentlessly to understand every aspect of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causal agent of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in the generation of an unprecedented volume of data within a short period. 

Easy access to scientific publications and data has helped researchers across the world to understand the mode of transmission of the virus, its character, and important underlying mechanisms, which in turn helped them design vaccines and therapeutics to protect individuals from contracting the disease.

The complete genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, which was first reported from Wuhan, China, in 2019, has been uninhibitedly shared among all researchers across countries and this helped them immensely in their respective studies. Scientists stated that open access to research publications should be the modus operandi of the present and future research scenarios.

In the current COVID-19 situation, the publicly available data has played an important role in combating the pandemic. Owing to the open-access data, scientists could determine the five to fourteen days of the incubation period of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Additionally, open access data enabled the government of a country to review how a particular strategy worked for another country before implementing them. Hence, open-access data helped in making data‐informed decisions to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The current pandemic highlighted the importance of building a better research culture and improving the accessibility of research publications and other important data to scientific communities. This pandemic has shown that research in all forms, i.e., epidemiology, processes of the development of vaccines and therapeutics, and various survey reports, have played an important part in the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The role of open access in tackling future pandemics

The world has noticed how open access data helped the scientific research community and the general public to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. Scientific publications are the backbone of future novel discoveries. Hence, unconditional access and sharing of technologies, methods, and scientific contents to entire scientific and medical communities from both developed and developing countries is important to find a cure against present and future crises. 

The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown the power of coordinating global research. Although global research planning and coordination is not a new phenomenon, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized its importance. The current pandemic highlighted the importance of global preparedness to combat potential pandemic-inducing pathogens with limited or no available medical defenses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how research priorities could be quickly shifted to fight new global threats. Scientists around the world have contributed to building information on SARS-CoV-2, and this system of sharing of information and the collaborative network should benefit current and future research. 

Additionally, global sharing of sequences (e.g. GISAID) has helped researchers to quickly understand the mutations and their outcome, the origin of new variants, their virulence, transmissibility, and capacity to evade immune responses. An early sharing of sequences has allowed scientists to develop diagnostics and determine the efficacy of vaccines against new strains.

References

  • Open access to facilitate research and information on COVID-19. (2022) UNESCO. [Online] Available at: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/communicationinformationresponse/opensolutions
  • Kiley, R. (2022) Open access: how COVID-19 will change the way research findings are shared. [Online] Available at: https://wellcome.org/news/open-access-how-covid-19-will-change-way-research-findings-are-shared
  • Alemneh, D. G., Hawamdeh, S., Chang, H. C., Rorissa, A., Assefa, S., & Helge, K. (2020). Open access in the age of a pandemic. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Association for Information Science and Technology57(1), e295. https://doi.org/10.1002/pra2.295
  • Why open science is critical to combatting COVID-19. (2020) [Online] Available at: https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/why-open-science-is-critical-to-combatting-covid-19-cd6ab2f9/
  • Callaway, E. (2020) Will the pandemic permanently alter scientific publishing? Nature 582, pp. 167-168. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01520-4

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 7, 2022

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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