Good science to produce treatments, tests and vaccines is crucial – and it can’t be confined to a few countries. A coordinated effort around the world will allow us to develop treatments that are a genuine global public good.
Producing effective treatments isn’t as simple as just finding a drug that works. Different treatments might have different effects in different settings.
"Populations vary," explains Trudie Lang, Professor of Global Health at the University of Oxford. "We expect to see differences from things like co-infections and what else is going on in the community. That might cause a difference in how people respond to drugs, but also what drugs you can use in those settings."
Differences don’t stop at the biochemical level – drugs against Covid-19 also have to be usable by local healthcare systems wherever they’re needed. "Clinical care settings are different as well," says Trudie. "The ability to test is very different... it does play into where people present with diseases and how they’re cared for."
So, at every stage of research and development, we need to find out what works for different communities to make sure the solutions to the pandemic are globally effective and equitable.
Wellcome’s recent funding call for Covid-19 focused specifically on interventions in low- and middle-income countries. Funded projects include studies in Kenya, Uganda and The Gambia. Research like this, on how the virus operates in different settings and the impact of interventions including treatments in those settings, will help us make sure we have drugs that are suitable for use in different communities around the world.
And that’s vital. Separate, national responses won’t work against a virus that doesn’t recognise borders. It will take a global effort to solve a global crisis. Successful drugs against Covid-19 – wherever they’re developed – must be distributed equitably around the world, starting with the places that need them most urgently. If not, the virus can never be brought under control.
"Until we have reliable tests to detect, medicines to treat, vaccines to prevent, the disease will keep going round the world in waves," explains Nick Cammack. "As long as it’s out of control somewhere, it’s always going to be a threat everywhere."
This article was originally published in June 2020 and updated on 19 October 2020.