ANR announced on 26 February and launched on 6 March 2020 a Flash Covid-19 call for projects in order to strengthen the first actions supported by REACTing and to mobilise research, beyond the scientific communities already involved, to respond to the Covid-19 health crisis at the epidemiological, pathophysiological, health, social and economic levels. This first initiative was aimed at supporting projects in the perspective of an immediate response to the epidemic. The following month, continuing on from this call for projects, on 16 April 2020 ANR launched a new "Covid-19 Research Action" call for projects, continuously open until 28 October 2020, to take into account the diversity of scientific questions arising during the development of the pandemic. It aimed to support “Research-Action” type projects aimed at acquiring knowledge for application of the results, methods or techniques within 3 to 12 months or the immediate collection of data.
These two calls for projects have the advantage of allowing rapid funding and adapting to an evolving situation. Thus, thanks to the accelerated and flexible system specific to the Flash instrument, a seed fund1 was set up within 48 hours for 44 projects assessed as urgent by the scientific committee. Without deviating from the principles of peer review, the full results of the Covid-19 Flash call were published on 10 April 2020, i.e. 5 weeks after publication of the call for projects. Unprecedented, the first ANR action-research call proposed an original system adapted to an exceptional situation: continuously open, thus offering research communities the possibility of submitting projects for 6 months, with ongoing evaluation. In total, 17 successive evaluation sessions were organised by ANR between 2 June 2020 and 26 January 2021.
The Flash Covid-19 and RA-Covid-19 calls for projects revealed a significant mobilisation of scientific communities to provide knowledge and solutions to the crisis. 234 projects were selected for funding out of 872 eligible in total, for a success rate of 27%.
The duration of the projects submitted was less than or equal to 18 months for the Flash call and 12 months for the Research-Action call. The average funding allocated to these short projects is respectively €153 k and €114 k. 115 projects received funding via the Flash call: 106 projects fully financed (including 35 of the 44 projects that benefited from the seed fund) and 9 benefited from the seed fund for a total financing of € 17.6 million. Of the 615 projects eligible for the RA COVID-19 call, 128 projects were funded for a total funding of € 14.6 million.
The overall budget for these two calls for projects amounts to € 32.2 million. This amount was achieved thanks to contributions from many partners. In addition to the MESRI emergency fund of € 16 million and an ANR financing of € 6.5 million, these calls also benefited from a co-financing contribution of € 9.7 million. The Foundation for Medical Research, the Fondation de France and six regions: Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Grand Est, Hauts-de-France, Occitanie, Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire have teamed up with ANR to coordinate actions to support research on the Covid-19 pandemic. ANR was also the operator of two specific calls for projects co-financed by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation with the Grand-Est and Hauts-de-France regions.
The scientific areas covered by the Flash and RA Covid-19 calls for projects were based on WHO and REACTing consortium recommendations. Both multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary, these areas cover all disciplines that can provide global knowledge about the epidemic, the conditions of its management, but also about the characteristics of the virus, the disease and potential therapeutics.
The Flash Covid-19 call for projects focused primarily on the following themes: epidemiological and translational studies, pathophysiology of the disease, infection prevention and control, ethics and social dynamics. The RA-Covid-19 call for projects took up these four areas, including a 5th on the global issues of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Thus, the projects funded by these two calls cover many different scientific fields, from pathophysiological studies, knowledge of the biology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, characterising patients' immune responses, to diagnostic tests and antiviral molecules. Epidemiological studies, modelling virus spread, protection against infections, organisation of hospital services and medical or scientific ethics are also the subject of projects. Social and human dimensions are also widely addressed through the study of the determinants of perceptions and behaviours, the effects of the epidemic and measures for different populations, the conditions of expertise and public policy, along with from the point of view of social, economic and geopolitical issues.
In addition to biological and medical sciences and social science, the projects involve mathematics and modelling, along with physical and chemical sciences.
Thematic breakdown of projects funded under the Flash and RA Covid-19 calls:
Projects funded by these two calls, characterised by urgency, have already begun to produce initial results2. As of December 2020, there were already approximately 50 publications and 6 patents were in writing or had already been filed.
Published at the end of July 2020, the ANR 2021 Work Programme posts a “Covid-19” priority over the entire 2021 Generic Call for Proposals (AAPG 2021). Complementing short-term projects funded by the Flash Covid-19 and RA-Covid-19 calls, the AAPG 2021, funded projects with a higher budget of € 300 k to € 700 k, will allow for the development of larger-scale research over a period of 3-4 years. Beyond the answers needed to combat the pandemic, the aim is also to produce knowledge in all areas.
Following the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic in the autumn of 2020, a third specific ANR initiative, the Covid-19 Resilience call for projects, was launched on 18 December 2020. It aims to continue the rapid financing of short-term projects taking into account the new developments of the pandemic. Closed since 2 March 2021, the successful applicants will be made known during the second half of April 2021.
Moreover, as an operator of PIAs in the field of higher education and research, ANR contributes to the structuring of research by funding large and long-term projects through a series of actions: Laboratories of Excellence (Labex), Hospital-University Research (RHU), Hospital-University Institute (IHU), Convergence Institutes, International Infrastructure, Cohorts, SATT. In the exceptional health context, several on-going projects, funded by investments for the future, have refocused their research activities to combat the Covid-19 pandemic by mobilising funding previously obtained from ANR. A synergy was frequently found between the reorientation of these activities and the obtaining of specific funding by the constituent teams of these projects via the Flash-Covid-19 and RA-Covid-19 calls.
Finally, ANR plans to publish a progress report in 2021 on the results of projects funded under the Covid-19 calls and to hold a follow-up symposium in 2022.
Katel Le Floc'h: +33(0)1 78 09 80 70 / contactpresse(at)agencerecherche.fr
1 Allocation of an amount of €30 K per project.
2 Some examples of projects (non-exhaustive list): AM-Cov-Path; AIROCovid19; CoVarimm; GENCOVID; iCovid; IFN-Covid-19; NANO-SARS-CoV-2; DC-CoVaC; ANTICOV; TELEMASQ; EVALCOVID; Cofunerire; Coconel; COCO; SAPRIS.