Policy ForumResearch Ethics: COVID-19

Against pandemic research exceptionalism

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Science  01 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6490, pp. 476-477
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1731

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  • RE: Misaligned Forces in Pandemic Research
    • Olivia S Kates, Senior Fellow, Allergy and Infectious Diseases, University of Washington

    I agree with the authors’ argument against pandemic research exceptionalism, which has at times resulted in confusion and inefficiency in the academic response to COVID-19.

    Exceptionalism creates a permissive environment, but other forces must impel the rapid emergence of such an unprecedented number of studies and associated commentary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these is the overwhelming sense of medical urgency felt by all involved in the pandemic response, a force specific to these extraordinary circumstances, and that likely drives much of the research activity discussed in the article. Thankfully, the authors’ recommendations for thoughtfully planned, rigorous, and broadly collaborative research are aligned with this impulse. High-quality and clearly actionable data will provide the way forward for patients, clinicians, and communities.

    In addition, I wonder whether the permissive environment of research exceptionalism may have uncovered another more constant force - the over-valuing of publication as an objective criterion for hiring and promotions in academic medicine. Unfortunately, this pressure to publish will act against the authors’ recommendations. Doing away with pandemic exceptionalism can resist such a force, but will never eliminate it, and the resulting friction is a source of moral distress, burnout, and frustrated potential for physicians and trainees. Perhaps it is time to reconsider hiring and promotion criteria and to...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: The exceptional consequences of research exceptionalism in Brazil
    • Sergio S. Siqueira, Full professor, Pontificia Universidade Católica do Parana
    • Other Contributors:
      • Jose R. Faria-Neto, Full professor, Pontificia Universidade Católica do Parana
      • Paulo A. Mussi Augusto, Full professor, Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Parana
      • Roberto Pecoits-Filho, Full professor; Senior Investigator, Pontificia Universidade Católica do Parana; Arbor Research Collaborative for Health
      • Marcelo T. Mira, Full professor; Visiting scholar, Pontificia Universidade Católica do Parana; Kent State University

    Dear Editors,

    We fully agree with London and Kimmelman (1) on the risks of adopting exceptional measures to expedite scientific advances; in fact, consequences of such deleterious measures are particularly perceived in Brazil, a country with quantitative increase in scientific production, yet struggling to consolidate a global position as major contributor of relevant research. COVID-19 struck Brazil in a critical moment of decline in research funding. Thus, the substantial resources allocated to study COVID-19 as a reaction to the pandemic has triggered a massive volume of projects, often designed in days and relying on partnerships build up on convenience by groups with no tradition in the specific scientific fields. The scenario favors theme-based decisions instead of on scientific relevance, solid design and ethical standards. To date, the Brazilian National Commission of Ethics Research (CONEP) has received an overwhelming 400+ research protocols on COVID-19, 190 of which were approved; 37 are clinical trials, 15 of them involving chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine (2). This is likely consequence of a contamination of the scientific discussion by bad politics: president Bolsonaro, who is ignoring most of WHO recommendations so far (3), has been radically promoting hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 despite weak supporting evidence (4). This unsettled researchers and triggered unimaginable public responses, such as life threats against a principal investigator who...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE:
    • Dr. Romee Jan, Research Associate, Deptt. of Food Science & Technology, University of Kashmir

    A review on nutraceutical rich fruits as an alternative for pharmaceuticals to combat viral diseases
    Novel coronavirus (nCoV-19) is an infectious viral illness, commonly known as Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), an extreme acute respiratory syndrome. The disease first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11th, 2020.
    According to the current establishments, the SARS-CoV-2 has close sequence homology to that of SARS-CoV and often resembles (96.2%) a bat coronavirus (Gorbalenya, 2020; Chan et al., 2020a). SARS-CoV-2 belonging to the group of beta-CoVs, subgenus Sarbecovirus has a circular or elliptic and sometimes pleomorphic shape, around 60–140 nm in diameter. It is currently assumed that an unidentified intermediate species transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to humans, and then spread from human to human. Due to the lack of any known effective treatment and the circumstance of a "public health emergency," several medications have recently been tested for COVID-19, including "chloroquine," a low-cost antimalarial medication and its derivative hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), in addition to many other antiviral drugs and studies collected so far, have indicated that these drugs may possibly be used. But the clinical effectiveness of these medications has not been thoroughly evaluated. The new viral diseases continue to pose a significant threat to public health according...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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