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Fast and furious

Anthony BoccanfusoBy Anthony Boccanfuso

The pace and intensity of innovation in the current environment is a curious thing. As a society, we are keenly attuned to daily changes in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every week seems to set a new speed limit end with a new lifestyle reality that would have seemed alien the week before.

I am both impressed and encouraged by the ways so many UIDP members and supporting organizations have not only been able to adapt to this frenetic pace of change, but also to ramp up the innovation engine in the process. We may be stuck at home, but we’re certainly not paralyzed. To highlight just a few examples:

  • The University of Waterloo launched an open-source project last week to improve COVID-19 screening using artificial intelligence.
  • The University of Oxford is conducting a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The University of Pittsburgh, in partnership with UPMC, is rapidly advancing COVID-19 vaccine research and an immunity test that could help end the current lockdown.
  • Huron Consultants created a one-stop information page about COVID-19 for federal grant applicants and recipients.
  • InfoEd made its flagship SPIN database available to qualified universities in an effort to keep them aware of research opportunities related to COVID-19.
  • MITRE is coordinating the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, a private sector response to coordinate collection, aggregation, and analysis of COVID-19 data and best practices. Mayo Clinic, Leavitt Partners and several MIT faculty leaders were among the first to join.
  • To rapidly advance COVID-19 research on a variety of fronts, UC Berkeley will host the Berkeley Conversations webinar series to connect its experts with the public they serve, and with each other.
  • Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed new designs for ventilators.

Last week, nearly 200 of our members joined a webinar to learn how some of our industry members are advancing university-industry research relationships, despite logistical challenges. Moderated by Jim Bray of Northwestern University (who originated the idea for the webinar), PepsiCo’s Austin Kozman, Boehringer Ingelheim’s Gaylene Anderson, and Microsoft’s Kent Foster described how their companies are continuing student and university engagement while innovative research goes forward. For example, Microsoft has refocused a number of initiatives over the past month, including making all events virtual for the rest of 2020 and creating a new virtual intern program. Microsoft also announced:

  • A new partnership with universities to launch a new research consortium and issued a call for research proposal focused on using AI to abate the COVID-19 pandemic and to tackle future pandemics;
  • A new consortium of major UK industrial, technology, and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors to produce medical ventilators for the National Health Service; and
  • Offering its Healthcare Bot service to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help people make decisions on screening for COVID-19 and prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.

We followed the webinar with a quick poll of some of our industry members about how they’re managing intern relationships and will be announcing those results in the coming days. And we’ll be hosting another webinar April 22 (for both members and non-members) to discuss how industry is managing its academic partnerships in these extraordinary times.

While the pace is breakneck and we all hope to resume a normal flow soon, I hope we don’t soon forget how the research community has stepped up to meet the challenge of COVID-19. Social isolation hasn’t put the brakes on partnership, collaboration, and innovation. Instead, we’re breaking speed records.