Duque highlights the impulse to science and innovation for the reconstruction of Spain

The minister has appeared before the Science, Innovation and Universities Commission to present the actions that his Department has launched in the face of the COVID-19 health emergency and the actions planned in the de-escalation phases within the scope of his powers.

In this sense, it has defended the need to face the reconstruction of the country after this pandemic through the promotion of science and innovation, for which it will be necessary to increase the resources available for science and innovation. "We cannot repeat the mistakes of the previous crisis, when investment in R & D & I was erroneously reduced," he said.

To promote this reconstruction from science and innovation, the Ministry is working on four reforms necessary to give more agility and flexibility to the system; define a predictable scientific career for researchers from the start, with stable contracts and fair and inclusive evaluations; strengthen instruments to promote competitiveness and innovative nature of companies and advance better prepared biomedical and public health research.

With regard to the research career, he has specified that a model aligned with the countries in our environment must be established, which bases its selection system on criteria of scientific suitability and excellence, guaranteeing a high level of preparation, and achieving the loyalty of researchers so that, once incorporated into the system, they can continue promoting, in accordance with the planned systems.

In addition, he stressed that it is necessary to strengthen and multiply the instruments for promoting private investment in R & D & I. "The Spanish economy now needs an immediate relaunch based on knowledge, capable of maintaining and developing the capabilities and competitiveness of our companies," he said. To support and make the most of this relaunch, the Ministry will launch an ambitious set of measures with a strong impact, focused on a new three-year strategic plan for CDTI. The minister has detailed that the objective is to duplicate the annual direct public contribution commitments in R + D + I projects and initiatives led by companies, starting from some 1,000 million euros planned for this year 2020.

Finally, the need to strengthen research capabilities in infectious diseases and epidemiological surveillance, directly related to the control of pandemics such as this coronavirus.

Also in this context, he has explained the advances in precision or personalized medicine, which will be very useful to accelerate the knowledge of this and future health emergencies, thanks to the technological possibility of interrelating the clinical and genomic data of patients and thus finding better clinical practices. For this reason, it has pledged to further accelerate the implementation of the Spanish Strategy for Precision Medicine, of which there is already a draft, with an initial allocation that would allow in the short term to have the technological infrastructure and capacity of genomic analysis to make an important qualitative leap.

Epidemiological study of Seroprevalence

With regard to the current phase of de-escalation and the role of the Ministry to provide reliable data and advice to make the best decisions, the Minister has highlighted the information he has provided and will continue to provide the epidemiological study of seroprevalence ENE- COVID19, designed and led by the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) to know the degree of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Spain.

After the provisional results of the first wave have been known, which have yielded an estimated prevalence of antibodies against this virus in Spain of 5%, the minister explained that the second wave has already begun, the results of which will reveal the evolution of the prevalence and changes observed over time in the participants of this large cohort, which has reached more than 60,000 people.

The minister explained that this study is unique at an international level in terms of scope and depth and has ensured that the data it will provide will give very accurate information on the progress of the epidemic. What they show today, he has summarized, is that Spain is far from the so-called herd immunity, so we must continue looking for treatments and vaccines to face this epidemic and try to have the best data to foresee second waves.

Balance against COVID

The minister has dedicated an important part of his appearance to take stock of the actions of the Ministry since the pandemic was declared and the State of Alarm was decreed, and to explain the progress in the work and investigations. In these efforts, the € 24 million program approved on March 17 to finance coronavirus research projects and programs has played a prominent role. The minister explained that 22.24 million of the so-called COVID-19 Fund have already been awarded, which represents 92.6% of the total, and his budget will be completed in the coming days.

Among other things, this fund has funded multiple clinical trials to test the efficacy against COVID-19 of already approved treatments, as well as plasma from recovered patients. The minister has specified that this last project has already recruited more than 70 patients, which can move on to the next phase of the project.

In addition, new techniques for the diagnosis and detection of SARS-CoV-2 have been supported, which are faster and safer and that can result in earlier stages of the disease. Clinical studies on cohorts of patients with COVID-19 have also been funded to find out how the disease affects different types of people with risk factors, genetic differences and other determining factors. Four of these projects represent an important exercise in scientific and geographic coordination, since they will be carried out among dozens of hospitals and research centers across the country.

The minister has also indicated that collaboration channels have been established with the autonomous communities so that they can finance the projects that the Evaluation Committee of the COVID-19 Fund considers to be of scientific interest but which have not been a priority to be financed, as they have effects longer term.

Regarding the search for a vaccine against the new coronavirus, the minister specified that there are currently 10 vaccine projects in Spain with funding from the Ministry of 7.8 million euros. Of these, three are from researchers at the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), whose National Center for Biotechnology (CNB), received 4.45 million euros on March 17. The other seven projects, from different research centers, have been financed by the COVID-19 Fund with 2.3 million euros.

But, in addition, he explained that the medium term is already being prepared, with different actions in the area of ​​his powers. Specifically, the minister has indicated that work is underway to ensure vaccine production capacity. For this, he pointed out, he has contacted Spanish companies with the capacity to produce vaccines, whether animal or human, and his collaboration with researchers is being encouraged, which is leading to interesting projects in the Ministry's innovation programs. On the other hand, Spain committed funding during the conference organized by the EU that should allow it to ensure access to vaccines when they exist.

Boost for business innovation compared to COVID-19

In addition, the science and innovation system is working, among other things, to increase its own production capacity for medical devices, an effort that has the support of the Center for Technological and Industrial Development (CDTI), which is focusing its aid in redirecting or increasing the production of these products, through a quick concession procedure, under which 12 grants have already been approved, with a contribution of public financing of 6.6 million euros, and the new call for subsidies which, with 12 million, launched last week.

In just eight days, this last call has received more than 150 proposals from companies that propose the production of masks, sanitary equipment, hygiene products, respirators, new therapies, diagnostic tests and also possible vaccines. Regarding masks, for example, CDTI has already financed a project for an Andalusian health products company to redirect one of its plants to produce 2.7 million surgical masks and around 1.5 million hygienic masks per month. .

In addition to the urgent scientific response to COVID-19, the minister explained that work has been carried out these months so that other projects not focused on the pandemic are affected as little as possible by the state of alarm, which has inevitably forced Most of our scientists work from home.

Thus, in the workplace, exceptional measures have been introduced such as the extension of temporary employment contracts for research staff that will end this year, both in calls managed by organizations of the Ministry of Science and Innovation and by other entities by other agents. of the system, for up to three additional months, which has benefited 1,731 predoctoral, postdoctoral and technical personnel co-financed by the State Research Agency or the ISCIII. Research projects funded by the State Research Agency have also been automatically extended until December 31.

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