University of São Paulo: Publication analyzes legacy of the pandemic and responses from São Paulo science in the fight against covid-19

The first dispatches from international news agencies – Reuters and Associated Press – warning of the seriousness of viral pneumonia cases identified in Wuhan, China, were distributed on December 31, 2019, at 18:00 GMT. “Almost no one has read it”, recalls epidemiologist Paulo Lotufo, a professor at the USP School of Medicine (FM). The “Gregorian calendar tradition,” as he puts it, has delayed recognition of the global contagion risk posed by Sars-CoV-2. “Anyone who knows the history of pandemics was immediately on alert waiting for the great disaster. And unfortunately that’s what happened,” said Marco Antonio Zago, president of the São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp).

Research institutions mobilized quickly. “The speed at which researchers communicate is much greater than the speed at which politicians and managers from different places connect. We managed to establish several channels, debates, exchange of information and ideas that helped to react”, says doctor Esper Kallás, professor at the Department of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases at FM.

The chronology of the actions to combat the virus implemented by the São Paulo scientific community with the support of Fapesp – the Covid-19 treatment initiatives and the development of vaccines – is described in the chapter Reaction at record speed , which opens the 9th issue of the ten that will compose the book Fapesp 60 years – Science, Culture and Development .

While the Hospital das Clínicas da FM, for example, activated the Crisis Committee to offer intensive care beds and wards, Fapesp launched a call for proposals worth R$ 30 million to support projects that would respond to the challenges posed by the coronavirus. . In just four days, the Foundation opened the public notice, received, evaluated and approved the first of the 60 selected projects, recalled Luiz Eugênio Mello, the Foundation’s scientific director.

Chapter 2 – The Science of Readiness – details the climate of urgency that gripped research laboratories that isolated and established in vitro cultured strains of the virus to be sent to other laboratories, or that sequenced SARS-CoV-2 only 48 hours after the virus was identified in the first Brazilian patient.

It reports the clinical trials of the CoronaVac and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as the development, by the Butantan Institute, of an anticoronavirus serum and of multigenic vaccines. The entity’s president, Dimas Covas, signs one of the articles that make up the issue, entitled Science must come before politics .

The second chapter also mentions Fapesp’s support for eight research projects on new vaccines, in addition to investigations that aim to understand the effects of Covid-19 on specific populations and groups, such as those developed by geneticist Mayana Zatz at the Centro de Studies of the Human Genome and Stem Cells (Cegh-Cel) at USP. The researcher signs an article entitled Basic Science with practical results .

Collective construction of knowledge

With the title Knowledge to guide policies and reduce inequalities , the third chapter reports initiatives of the Solidarity Research Network in Public Policies, formed by more than one hundred researchers from 15 institutions, which produced data and technical-scientific knowledge to subsidize government sectors; and the Public Space and Right to the City Laboratory (LabCidade), which analyzed the impact of vaccination and health actions in the capital of São Paulo.

The issue concludes that São Paulo’s strong capacity to respond to the pandemic must be credited to the solidity of institutions, the legacy of support and research investments over the last decades, notably by Fapesp. Jean Pierre Schatzmann Peron, from USP, mentions, as an example, the knowledge framework, the organization of cooperation networks and the investments made by the Foundation during the zika epidemic, which helped in the prompt reaction to the new coronavirus.

The pandemic left a series of lessons for the future that will materialize, for example, in a call for a large research infrastructure program, to be launched soon by Fapesp. But not only, according to Zago, the pandemic was “a scientific experiment, with tests, hypotheses and methods. A collective construction in which government officials, universities, secretarial technicians, hospital directors, doctors, nurses, and the entire scientific community actively participated. Everyone wrote together a history of knowledge that is collective, and that now makes us much more prepared for the next epidemic – which one day will come”.

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