COVID vaccines prove value of R&D investment


COVID vaccines prove value of R&D investment

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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Even the most optimistic scientists would have been hesitant, we believe, to project that in just seven months vaccines to combat the novel coronavirus would be developed and ready for emergency approval.

But that is the present reality, and it is an achievement for which mankind should be proud.

It also justifies repeated calls for greater investment in research and development (R&D). For, make no mistake, had there not been that kind of focus on scientific research, Germany's BioNTech, and its US partner Pfizer, US pharmaceutical giant Moderna, and the British multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca most likely would not yet have got to phase three of clinical trials on their vaccines.

The US federal government, we have been told, allocated more than US$9 billion to develop and manufacture candidate vaccines. Additionally, a report in USA Today revealed that more than US$2.5 billion has been earmarked for vials to store the vaccines, syringes to deliver them, and on efforts to increase manufacturing and capacity.

The largest sums, USA Today reported, have gone to Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and a collaboration between Sanofi and GSK, as well as Moderna and Novavax — all of which have candidate vaccines being tested.

Of course, the data submitted by these companies must be found to be robust enough for health authorities to conclude on the quality, safety, and effectiveness of the vaccines. But while the world anxiously awaits that process, we cannot ignore the value of what has so far been achieved by scientists.

We have argued in the space before that the application of science and the invention and use of new technology are key drivers of economic growth because they increase productivity and result in more efficient allocation and utilisation of resources.

It is worth repeating that the Industrial Revolution in Britain was propelled by a series of transformative technological inventions by individuals using their own resources. The dominance of the world economy by the US in the 50 years after World War II was based on science and technology in defence funded by the US Government.

It is no secret that the countries that have achieved sustained high rates of economic growth and development have invested heavily in R&D.

Developed countries spend two to four per cent of their GDP on R&D. Jamaica spends less than 0.1 per cent. That is typical of developing countries and is one of the reasons we lag so far behind developed countries.

The argument is always advanced that small economies like Jamaica are not in a position to invest in R&D. However, we are convinced, given the proof of history, that we cannot fold our arms and accept that view.

The late Mr T P Lecky, who developed the Jamaica Hope cattle breed specifically for Jamaican conditions, was funded by the Government.

This newspaper and other media have reported the achievements of other Jamaicans scientists whose breakthroughs in their specific fields, could, if fully properly funded, deliver significant economic benefit to the country.

Jamaica, we insist, can develop a vibrant science and technology industry. It requires the Government to substantially increase expenditure on R&D to State research institutions; the granting of more scholarships in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at institutions of higher learning; and an increase in tax incentives for private companies to fund research and development.

It's a way out for us. We shouldn't be bashful.

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