Israeli Scientists Warn that a Lack of Continuous Research into Infectious Disease Epidemics Endangers Pandemic Responses

And Hashem said to Moshe, “I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you out of here one and all.




(the israel bible)

August 18, 2020

3 min read

It’s a natural response. When one faces immediate danger, the brain releases adrenalin and aims all the body’s efforts at overcoming catastrophe. When the peril passes, the body relaxes and goes on to think of other things.

It’s apparently the same with some aspects of scientific research. When epidemics break out, physicians and scientists rush to study the problem to try to bring solutions, but when the disease recedes, for whatever reason, their interest proceeds to other issues.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beersheba who recently analyzed a dataset of 35 million papers over two decades found that comparatively limited research has been conducted on emerging infectious diseases around the world. While the volume of research on infectious coronavirus diseases is very high after an outbreak, it drops substantially after the epidemic is contained and this prevents a full understanding of coronavirus management and prevention.

The study, entitled “Scientometric trends for coronaviruses and other emerging viral infections,” has just been published in the journal GigaScience by Dr. Michael Fire, a lecturer in the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering (SISE) and the founder of the Data Science for Social Good Lab. He and his colleagues found that while the research peaked after epidemics, it dropped off precipitously within two years of the initial outbreak.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has revealed how little we know about emerging coronaviruses,” said Fire. “There has been no sustained research into these types of infections, merely peaks following specific outbreaks. That pattern has left us woefully unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. If we want to be ready for the next pandemic, we must maintain a steady pace of research, even after the current pandemic subsides. The path to understanding is a marathon, not a sprint. COVID-19 is the most rapidly expanding coronavirus outbreak in the past 2 decades. To provide a swift response to a novel outbreak, prior knowledge from similar outbreaks is essential.”

COVID-19 is the most rapidly expanding coronavirus outbreak in the past two decades,” they wrote.  To provide a swift response to a novel outbreak, prior knowledge from similar outbreaks is essential. Infectious diseases remain a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide, in developed countries and particularly in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, among the top 10 causes of death globally, three are infectious diseases. In light of the continuous emergence of infections, the burden of infectious diseases is expected to become even greater in the near future.”

So far, COVID-19 has infected almost 20 million people and killed some700,000 of them around the world.

“A crucial aspect of being prepared for future epidemics is sustained ongoing research of emerging infectious diseases even at ‘times of peace’ when such viruses do not pose an active threat,” the researchers wrote. “We propose that regardless of the fate of COVID-19 in the near future, sustained research efforts should be encouraged to better prepare for the next outbreak.”

Fire, together with Dima Kagan, his doctoral student and Prof. Jacob Moran-Gilad of the department of health systems management at BGU’s School of Public Health, constructed and analyzed the novel dataset of research articles on emerging diseases. The researchers also discovered that there have been few international collaborations to study emerging infectious diseases.

In addition, 73% of the coronavirus studies were centered in only six countries, far fewer than other investigated diseases, with the majority of research emanating from the US and China. The coronavirus was also studied considerably less than blood borne viruses like hepatitis B or C and HIV (the AIDS virus), and its research community has less prolific researchers than the other investigated diseases.

This translates into limited collaborations and a non-sustained investment in research on coronaviruses. Such a short-lived investment also reduces funding and may slow down important developments such as new drugs, vaccines or preventive strategies. “We believe the lessons learned from the scientometrics of previous epidemics argue that regardless of the outcome of COVID-19, efforts to sustain research in this field should be made,” Fire suggested. “More specifically, in 2017 and 2018, SARS and MERS were considered to be priority diseases in WHO’s R&D Blueprint, but their research rate did not grow relative to other diseases. Therefore, the translation of international policy and public health priorities into a research agenda should be continuously monitored and enhanced.”



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