Global COVID-Zero initiative launched to fill $8bn shortfall for coronavirus response

  • Coalition for businesses to help fund vaccines, treatments and testing
  • Wellcome says this is "world’s best exit strategy" for COVID-19

Wellcome, the global independent foundation, has today launched an initiative, COVID-Zero, to help raise at least $8 billion by the end of April to cover a global funding shortfall for vaccines, treatments and testing for coronavirus.

This funding gap has been identified by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body convened by the World Health Organization and the World Bank. Wellcome said that securing this funding now was "the world’s best exit strategy" for tackling coronavirus and would save lives, protect jobs and get the global economy moving again faster than any other option.

An initial $8 billion – a fraction of what governments have found to protect their economies – would provide the resources needed both to develop drugs and vaccines and to start to scale up production across the world.

The initiative is aimed at the private sector and has launched with the message that providing funding now "is the best investment your business can make today". It is asking CEOs of multinational companies to join the coalition and save lives. A study by Bloomberg Economics has found that the pandemic could cost businesses a total of $2.7 trillion in lost output – equivalent to the entire GDP of the UK.

Scientists globally are working at tremendous pace to develop vaccines, test existing drugs that could treat COVID-19 and improve diagnostic tests. But they're running out of funding fast which means new developments may never reach clinical trials and, ultimately, achieve regulatory approval.

The initiative is called COVID-Zero because by securing this funding, it aims to achieve zero deaths, zero new cases and zero lockdowns as soon as possible.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said CEOs need to quickly put funds towards solving the problem, as well as handling the issues of today: "Businesses and governments are rightly concerned with tackling immediate concerns – how to support staff, keep trading and bolster economies. But we also need a way out of this pandemic as fast as possible.

"Drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostics are the only way we have of saving lives, bringing this pandemic to an end and preventing it reappearing. This is the only exit strategy – but we do not have the funding we need to execute it.   

"We want business leaders to give a small proportion of the money they are dedicating to coping with this crisis, to solving it. We hope that governments will follow their example.

"Otherwise, this is a global issue that will continue to plague the world – and businesses – for months, if not years, to come."

Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the global alliance leading efforts to rapidly advance the development of COVID-19 vaccines, said: "The spread of COVID-19 is a global humanitarian and economic crisis. While a range of social distancing measures have been implemented in countries and regions across the world, the development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics is the most effective way to permanently halt the global spread of the disease.

We are all in this together – all of us facing this same threat – and it’s down to all of us to influence what happens next. At this pivotal moment we urge the business sector to join governments and philanthropies in offering vital financial support to science, which is the only way to bring this pandemic to an end."

The $8bn would go to organisations coordinating the global R&D response to this crisis: CEPI, the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, and The Foundation for New Innovative Diagnostics (FIND). It would also go to the World Health Organization Solidarity Fund, to ensure these innovations reach the people who need them the most. The breakdown is as follows:

  • $1.25bn – fund the WHO to support the most vulnerable countries
  • $3bn – vaccines R&D for COVID-19 ($2bn), plus manufacturing and delivery ($1bn)
  • $2.25bn – therapeutics R&D for COVID-19 plus manufacturing and delivery
  • $0.75bn – diagnostics R&D for COVID-19 plus manufacturing and delivery
  • $0.75bn – stockpile of COVID-19 essential PPE, diagnostics, treatments and vaccines

More information on the initiative and how businesses can get involved can be found at wellcome.org/covidzero.