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The Fundamental First Step to Fighting COVID-19: Research

ByJohn Danaher, MD|May 7, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team will be interviewing experts from across the ecosystem to bring the HLTH community timely facts and updates.

As the industry focuses heavily on the COVID-19 pandemic, the health science community is working overtime to conduct research that will lead to treatment, vaccine, and better diagnostics. Here at Elsevier, we continue to update our Novel Coronavirus Information Center to help public health authorities, researchers and clinicians contain and manage this disease. From research papers, data sets, patient care plans, and clinical decision support tools, these resources are available for free to the health science community, clinicians and patients around the world. As an extension of this effort, we also recently launched our COVID-19 Healthcare Hub as a free resource to aid frontline healthcare workers managing the current coronavirus health crisis and the Coronavirus Research Hub, which provides a suite of best-in-class tools for researchers and data scientists to freely access.  

The importance of free access to research

In the past four months, we have seen the research community change focus rather quickly to themes relevant to COVID-19. This is all part of a larger trend that we are seeing in infectious disease research. Over the past decade, research publications on emerging infectious diseases has grown at an average rate of 6.9% annually

We also know that following an outbreak of a disease, there is a sharp spike in disease-specific publications. This is evidenced by a rise in publication counts following outbreaks of SARS, Influenza A (H1N1), Ebola and Zika virus. We can expect to see that for COVID-19 as well. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of research available that could help inform a response to the evolving pandemic – and it is clear that the research community is hard at work and eager to access information like this.

As a member of the health science community, I believe it is Elsevier’s duty to do everything in our power to support the urgent global effort to understand, contain, and eradicate this new virus. This is why Elsevier, and many other publishers, have signed the Wellcome Trust’s statement that calls for research findings and relevant data to be shared rapidly and openly to inform the public health response and help save lives. This is why we have worked quickly to pool all available information in one place on our coronavirus resource hub. Ultimately, science does not happen in isolation; it requires timely collaboration and knowledge sharing.   

Using AI to sort through data 

You may be asking, with this growing amount of data and research, how do we expect our busy clinicians to sort through and break the information down into actionable next steps? This is where artificial intelligence can shine, as it sorts through thousands upon thousands of journals and databases to expertly curate relevant peer-reviewed papers. This technology also allows researchers to comb and surface real-time clinical trial data. But, how does this ultimately impact patient care? 

Research impact on patients 

When looking at the direct impact of research on patients, first we must look to past infectious disease outbreaks, such as SARS, Influenza A (H1N1), Ebola and Zika virus. Through the research completed during and after these outbreaks, the health science community discovered new approaches to treat and curb the spread of diseases. As we are problem-solving for the current situation with COVID-19, many are looking to past successes, and in some cases, even failures, to apply learnings to the challenge at hand. Ultimately, this can accelerate the speed of discovery for successful treatments, vaccines, and diagnostics for the novel coronavirus.  

Right now, we need any and all research findings on every aspect of this virus. This will help us improve diagnosis, offer urgently needed treatment possibilities and enable a greater understanding of the pathogen itself and its evolution. This has become especially clear in the last few months, as we have seen a rapid response from public health organizations to advance various treatments, vaccines and diagnostics based on existing data and new research results. As we move forward, research will also provide insight into the long-term effects of the treatments, vaccines and the virus itself, as we have little knowledge of this currently. Eventually, as the global community recovers from COVID-19, we can use our learnings to improve outcomes for future outbreaks. 

COVID-19 has had a massive global impact, with extreme economic disruption, strain on local and global public health resources and, above all, human health. As we work together in the fight against this pandemic, we must remember that the fundamental first step rests in research. 

About John Danaher, MD:

John Danaher, MD, MBA, is Global President of Clinical Solutions at Elsevier, a global business focused on improving patient outcomes and reducing unnecessary healthcare costs through advanced clinical decision support and clinical process improvement. Before joining the Clinical Solutions group, John was President of Education (Nursing and Health Education) at Elsevier. 

Prior to joining Elsevier, John was President of the Schools of Health Sciences and Nursing at Kaplan University. He brings a great depth of experience in digital media in health care and education from his time at Kaplan, Discovery Communications, and as Executive VP of WebMD. John has deep domain expertise and a successful track-record in managing health information businesses. His experience, in both government and the private sector, extends beyond the US and into global markets, including assignments and experience with Japan, Pakistan, the UK and Australia.

John received his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine. He received his MBA from Stanford University and earlier in his career was Resident & Chief Resident in Internal Medicine at Stanford University Medical Center. John has served on diverse corporate and not-for-profit boards, community organizations, teaching faculties and fellowships, including a White House Fellowship.