The SNSF funds 36 new coronavirus research projects

Under the special call on coronaviruses, the societal and biomedical aspects of epidemics will be investigated with a total budget of 10 million francs. The projects will start as of 1 June 2020.

​As the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, the SNSF took swift action by launching a special call on coronaviruses on 6 March 2020. The call was enthusiastically received in the research community.

  • Applications submitted: 284
  • Applications rejected for formal reasons: 13
  • Applications evaluated: 271
  • Approved projects in biomedicine: 22 out of 169
  • Approved projects in social sciences and humanities: 10 out of 70
  • Approved projects in the STEM disciplines: 4 out of 32

The SNSF responded by increasing the budget for the special call from 5 to 10 million Swiss francs. International experts had evaluated all of the applications within a month. In the end, the SNSF was able to fund 13 per cent of the most highly rated projects with the available funds. The race for selection thus remained a very competitive exercise in spite of the budget increase, with the SNSF being forced to turn down many excellent projects.

From immune memory to burial rites

The funded projects reflect the entire thematic spectrum. They can be viewed in the online project register on Covid-19 research in Switzerland. Five examples:

  • Volker ThielandRonald Dijkmanfrom the University of Bern and Isabella Eckerle from the University of Geneva are studying how the lung epithelium reacts when infected with Sars-CoV-2. They hope the results will make it possible to predict whether an infected patient is going to suffer mild or severe symptoms.
  • Charlotta Sirén, Joakim Wincent, Dietmar GrichnikandMichael Hudecheckfrom the University of St. Gallen as well as Gerard George from Singapore Management University want to analyse satellite data and media information to understand how people around the world react to pandemics. The end goal is to use this knowledge to develop an early warning system for pandemics.
  • Marc-Antoine Berthodfrom the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland in Lausanne and Gaëlle Clavandier from the University of St. Etienne are looking at burial rites in times of social distancing. They are interviewing undertakers and bereaved family members to learn more about the creative solutions they have developed to deal with death.
  • Thomas PeterandUlrich Kriegerfrom ETH Zurich are studying the usefulness of acetic acid as a disinfectant against Sars-CoV-2 in the air. To this end, they need to test its efficacy in concentrations that are not harmful to humans.
  • Andrew MacphersonandStephanie Ganal-Vonarburgfrom the University of Bern are researching the development of immunological memory among over 200 people who work in hospitals. The aim is to know whether people who have already been ill with the virus will be immune to it in the future.

Complementing NRP "Covid-19"

The special call on coronaviruses will be complemented by the National Research Programme "Covid-19" (NRP 78), mandated by the Federal Council, for which a call was launched on 30 April 2020. As the call topics include future pandemics, the social sciences and humanities will account for a substantial share of the projects.