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The pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has changed the world we live in. We have had to adapt quickly to a partially confined society, where reaction times have taken on remarkable importance. In the case of science, the need to develop vaccines that would allow immediate and global immunization has been a milestone. This has been marked, in part, by scientific collaboration.
For some years now, the importance of sharing research data has become apparent. This effort, let’s call it philanthropic, would make it possible to dynamize science and, therefore, obtain results more quickly and at a lower cost, while increasing transparency and scientific reproducibility.
Broadly speaking, data sharing has had proponents and detractors, the latter arguing that sharing their research data could threaten their competitive advantage over other groups. In any case, pedagogical work is necessary in this regard, since there is a general lack of knowledge about the subject on the part of the research groups themselves, which together with the lack of scientific recognition from the evaluation agencies make it difficult to practice.
The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research framework program already specified that any research action funded by the European Union (EU) is subject to making all data derived from the study available to the general public. Similarly, over the past decade, initiatives such as OpenAIRE and repositories such as Zenodo have emerged that seek to promote the exchange of research data in the EU. Despite this, it is necessary to count on the will of the research teams, to ensure that the shared data sets comply with the FAIR principles (Fundeniable, TOccessible, Interoperable, Reusable).
And the SARS-CoV-2 arrived
It was last March 2020 when the whole world understood that we were facing a real threat, the pandemic, a time when maintaining competitive advantage took a back seat and the only thing that mattered was an effective response in record time .
In the case of research on SARS-CoV-2, the number of studies published during the first months of 2020, both epidemiological, genetic or clinical, increased exponentially due to this international health emergency, although the exchange of data had a slight increase, in no case comparable to the number of publications.
After the dizzying race to develop effective vaccines by private laboratories, with significant financial contributions from the public and private spheres, production and distribution began at the end of 2020. As it is a global pandemic, the need for immediacy Due to the serious consequences that the virus had on public health, it generated a series of logistical problems: there were not enough vaccines for everyone.
Delays, difficulties in production plants, etc. They led public authorities to question the suitability of a temporary suspension of patents so that any laboratory could manufacture new vaccines and thus increase their scope. That is to say, something like sharing research data but in a forced way, with the problem generated by the attack against the intellectual property of the formulas and the economic repercussions that it would have on the pharmaceutical companies.
Therefore, the prophecies that the researchers predicted regarding the threat of sharing their data were fulfilled, despite the fact that the laboratories themselves had also benefited from this practice.
An efficient system that needs protocols
Thus, among the lessons learned in times of pandemic, we can conclude that the sharing of research data has been revealed as an efficient, although not usual, mechanism for the dissemination of science, allowing optimization of resources and shortening deadlines, but that It is necessary to implement it by creating standards and protocols for scientific communication that promote the quality of research data.
Currently, Horizon Europe 2021-2027 and Spain through the State Plan for Scientific, Technical and Innovation Research 2021-2023 reinforce this commitment to Open Science, with the need for research data to comply with the FAIR principles and be shared in accordance with the protocol “as open as possible and as closed as necessary”.
In a post-coronavirus world, data sharing should be debated. A patent suspension, even temporary, may have consequences for the future involvement of private initiative in the development of vaccines, knowing that governments can appropriate the results at any time.
Sharing research data can be an ally in the face of future science challenges, but the public-private collaboration, which is so necessary, must go through absolute respect for the intellectual property of research results to prevent future crisis situations from damaging the foundations of the open science movement.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
Antonio Vidal Infer receives funds from the Ministry of Science and Innovation – State Research Agency (PID2019-108579RB-I00 / AEI / 10.13039 / 501100011033).
Rut Lucas Domínguez receives funds from the Ministry of Science and Innovation-State Research Agency (PID2019-108579RB-I00 / AEI / 10.13039 / 501100011033) and CIBERONC (CB16 / 12/00350).