Understanding the virus, developing drugs and vaccines, and researching the economic, social, and legal consequences: desperately needed answers require well-funded basic research
The COVID-19 crisis came without warning and now holds the world tight in its grip. Large areas of social life have been disrupted and severely restricted. This concerns research in two respects: on the one hand, offices and laboratories remain closed to researchers, while, on the other hand, researchers are searching frantically for a solution to the pandemic and its far-reaching consequences in all areas of life. In a statement on the COVID-19 crisis, FWF President Klement Tockner also emphasised the crucial importance of research. “If it weren’t for the scientific knowledge that we have gained over the last few years and decades, we wouldn’t be in a position to understand the virus so quickly nor develop an effective drug or vaccine”, said Tockner, who continued, “What is needed at the moment is international cooperation and free access to knowledge because we are in a global race for time”.
Europe has overtaken China as the most recent hotspot of the coronavirus outbreak; next it will probably be the USA, and after that Africa. Federal Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann emphasised that “society needs hope, and science can instil hope and avert real threats. It has always succeeded in the past, and it will this time, too. That is also why I am a firm believer in focusing public interest on science and research as the driving forces of the future”. He went on to say that “the wealth of knowledge we have gained over the last few years now serves as the basis of those actions we are currently taking. And these affect the lives of many, many people. The great importance of high-quality basic research, funded largely by the FWF in Austria, is now becoming abundantly clear”.
Researchers involved in the fight
At the moment, researchers are at the centre of things. For instance, Josef Penninger, Institute of Molecular Biology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA), who is at the forefront of developing a coronavirus vaccine; the virologist Christoph Steininger of the Medical University of Vienna, who is involved in several EU-wide research projects on the coronavirus; as well as Claus Lamm, University of Vienna, who is investigating the effects of acute stress on social behaviour (see also, https://scilog.fwf.ac.at/en/) – all are FWF-funded researchers whose expertise is now sought after throughout the world.
FWF urgent funding and other actions for research
Researchers, however, are also among those affected by the crisis. That is why the FWF Executive Board has taken swift action to provide researchers with the best possible support in the current situation. The specific measures relate to both the submission and processing of project proposals. You can find further details on the FWF’s “corona measures” at www.fwf.ac.at/en/corona.
The FWF’s newly established “SARS-CoV-2 urgent funding”, which goes into effect immediately, provides a fast-track procedure for those proposals that deal with research into humanitarian crises such as epidemics and pandemics. In selected FWF programmes, priority is given to processing and reviewing these proposals so a funding decision can be made within a few weeks. The goal is to initiate, as quickly as possible, additional high-quality scientific and scholarly projects at research institutions throughout Austria and thus expand capacities and structures, thereby contributing to overcoming the current humanitarian crisis as well as future ones. You can find further details on the SARS-CoV-2 urgent funding here.
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
The FWF is Austria’s central funding organisation for basic research as well as arts-based research. Applying international quality benchmarks, the FWF provides funding for outstanding research projects and excellent researchers who work to generate, broaden and deepen scientific knowledge.