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Title: Saving millions of lives but some resources squandered: emerging lessons from health research system pandemic achievements and challenges
Authors: Hanney, SR
Straus, SE
Holmes, BJ
Keywords: COVID-19;equity;health research systems;knowledge production;knowledge utilization;pandemic;priority-setting;research capacity;research waste;vaccines
Issue Date: 10-Sep-2022
Publisher: BMC (Springer Nature)
Citation: Hanney, S.R., Straus, S.E. and Holmes, B.J. (2022) 'Saving millions of lives but some resources squandered: emerging lessons from health research system pandemic achievements and challenges', Health Research Policy and Systems, 20 (1), 99, pp. 1-44. doi: 10.1186/s12961-022-00883-6.
Abstract: Copyright © The Author(s) 2022. During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, astonishingly rapid research averted millions of deaths worldwide through new vaccines and repurposed and new drugs. Evidence use informed life-saving national policies including non-pharmaceutical interventions. Simultaneously, there was unprecedented waste, with many underpowered trials on the same drugs. We identified lessons from COVID-19 research responses by applying WHO’s framework for research systems. It has four functions—governance, securing finance, capacity-building, and production and use of research—and nine components. Two linked questions focused the analysis. First, to what extent have achievements in knowledge production and evidence use built on existing structures and capacity in national health research systems? Second, did the features of such systems mitigate waste? We collated evidence on seven countries, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, to identify examples of achievements and challenges. We used the data to develop lessons for each framework component. Research coordination, prioritization and expedited ethics approval contributed to rapid identification of new therapies, including dexamethasone in the United Kingdom and Brazil. Accelerated vaccines depended on extensive funding, especially through the Operation Warp Speed initiative in the United States, and new platforms created through long-term biomedical research capacity in the United Kingdom and, for messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines, in Canada, Germany and the United States. Research capacity embedded in the United Kingdom’s healthcare system resulted in trial acceleration and waste avoidance. Faster publication of research saved lives, but raised challenges. Public/private collaborations made major contributions to vastly accelerating new products, available worldwide, though unequally. Effective developments of living (i.e. regularly updated) reviews and guidelines, especially in Australia and Canada, extended existing expertise in meeting users’ needs. Despite complexities, effective national policy responses (less evident in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States) also saved lives by drawing on health research system features, including collaboration among politicians, civil servants and researchers; good communications; and willingness to use evidence. Comprehensive health research strategies contributed to success in research production in the United Kingdom and in evidence use by political leadership in New Zealand. In addition to waste, challenges included equity issues, public involvement and non-COVID research. We developed recommendations, but advocate studies of further countries.
Description: Availability of data and materials: Not applicable for this opinion paper, but the Additional files contain a collation and account of many of the sources used.
Other Identifiers: 99
Appears in Collections:Health Economics Research Group (HERG)

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