New Report Identifies Paths to Pandemic Resilience

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

  • First Findings Report summarizes collective intelligence view of 180 global science, healthcare and policy experts
  • Data from sewage, genomic analysis, internet searches and mobile phones can provide early-warning signs of disease spread, according to report
  • Global clinical trial protocols and privacy-protected digital contact tracing also ranked among top solutions

A new report details potential paths to solutions to overcoming the global Covid-19 crisis and ways to prepare for or even prevent a future pandemic.

“There is a tremendous need for a common set of scientific facts about the virus and reliable, verified data,” said “Udit Batra, member of the Merck Executive Board and CEO, Life Science. “We are aiming to establish a common baseline of agreed priorities upon which we can engage the wider scientific and innovation community to continue to build collaborative solutions to pandemics like this one.”

The Life Science business of Merck, alongside Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI) and MIT Media Lab’s Community Biotechnology Initiative (CBI), released the results of a three-week collective intelligence exercise that concluded earlier this month. More than 180 science, healthcare and policy experts from around the world  (referred to as the “Supermind,” a term used in collective intelligence to describe a powerful combination of individual minds) collaborated to develop solutions to address the current pandemic and develop pandemic resiliency. The findings are now published

in a First Findings Report on the Pandemic Response CoLab website, operated by MIT’s CCI.

The Supermind report concludes that the following should be done:

  • Look at sewage, genomes, human voices and digital signatures from the Internet and other devices for early-warning signs of disease spread.
  • Include and empower marginalized and vulnerable communities to make health equity possible, ensuring representation of minority groups in clinical trials.
  • Create resilient supply chains.
  • Consider digital contact tracing with privacy protections for pandemic suppression.
  • Safely accelerate therapy and vaccine clinical trials.
  • Build trust between the public, government and scientists so that scientific facts can be communicated and policies can be better adopted.

“From a contact tracing perspective, we need to unlock a way to use digital technology that protects privacy and is acceptable to all,” said Patrick Schneider, chairman of the Innovation Board at the Life Science business of Merck. “The Supermind group uncovered many ways to do this.”

David Sun Kong, director of MIT Media Lab’s CBI, said one of the biggest learnings during the Supermind problem-solving activity was the alignment among the experts that there are many mitigation strategies that could make a significant impact in controlling the pandemic even without a vaccine.

“If we could get the public to consistently and strongly apply even one of these mitigations, from wearing face coverings to having ubiquitous testing to enabling digital contact tracing, we could make significant progress,” Dr. Sun Kong said. “Sewers are an interesting place you can monitor to get as much as a seven-day lead time of when an outbreak might happen. If you understand what the genomic viral content is, you can have a baseline and any perturbations could be the early-warning sign of a brand new threat.”

The report’s results will be activated as part of a larger open science collaboration, the Pandemic Response CoLab, operated by MIT’s CCI and CBI. This platform will crowd-source promising solutions in each of the identified domains so that the global scientific and innovation community can continue the work to identify key problems related to Covid-19, propose solutions and recruit the

people and resources needed to progress from idea to action. The first challenges on face mask innovations are live on the CoLab website now. Anyone is eligible to join and propose ideas. The most promising ideas will receive recognition and mentorship support calls.