19 Sep 2021

Government announces $36m investment in Covid-19 research fund

3:32 pm on 19 September 2021

The government will invest $36m into infectious disease research to aid with the Covid-19 pandemic response and prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks.

A lab assistant manipulates samples, at a COVID-19 screening centre of Saint Andre Hospital in Bordeaux, on May 20, 2020, as the hospital takes part in an operation of a screening and testing drive of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), organised in the city centre. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

File photo. Photo: AFP

The research fund was announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during today's Covid-19 media conference.

"Covid is not the first challenge of this nature we have faced and it won't be the last," she said. "We need to ensure we are in a continual state of preparedness."

In the media conference, Associate Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Dr Ayesha Verrall said the fund was being set up "in order to sustain the contribution of cutting edge science to the pandemic response."

"As a former infectious diseases doctor and researcher, I know the lack of a dedicated infectious diseases research fund has been a longstanding gap in our domestic science capability," she said.

The new Infectious Diseases Research Platform is being set up to improve Aotearoa's readiness for future pandemics, with research focused on prevention, control and management of infectious diseases.

"Our response to Covid-19 has been informed by science from the beginning, and as a result we have saved lives," Verrall said in a statement.

"But the lack of a dedicated infectious diseases research fund has been a longstanding gap in our domestic science capabilities. When the pandemic hit, scientists either volunteered time to support the Covid-19 response, or received ad hoc grants for small pieces of research.

"To address this, we are investing $36 million over three years in a new programme of research to sustain the contribution of cutting-edge science to the response."

Verrell said the focus would be on major research questions relating to Covid-19, which were also common to all infectious diseases.

"The first priority area is improving prevention and control, including through better understanding of disease transmission, and further vaccine research. The second is in improving our management of infectious diseases, for instance through diagnostics, surveillance and therapeutics," she said.

"Reducing the impact of infectious diseases on Māori and Pacific people, and promoting the development of our next generation of pandemic scientists, are key drivers of this work."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will run an investment process, and will open up for proposals from next month for the platform host.

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