Press Release No. 46 | November 17, 2021

International DFG Conference on Pandemic Research: In Search of Solutions for the Future

“Preparedness for Future Pandemics from a Global Perspective”/ More than 300 academics from funded projects engage in digital dialogue

“Preparedness for Future Pandemics from a Global Perspective”/ More than 300 academics from funded projects engage in digital dialogue

On Monday, 15 November, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) organised a broad-based networking meeting with academics working on DFG-funded projects in the field of pandemic research. Around 300 participants from more than 100 pandemic-related projects gathered for the digital dialogue entitled “Preparedness for Future Pandemics from a Global Perspective”. The research projects represented are not just involved directly with coronaviruses but include investigations into fundamental aspects of pathogens and diseases and their pandemic potential, as well as projects looking into the impact of pandemics in a global context. The focus was on interdisciplinary networking between projects across all disciplines and the initiation of additional projects.

“We’re no longer in the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic – we’re now in the middle of the fourth wave,” said DFG President Professor Dr. Katja Becker in her welcoming speech. “So our task at the moment is to analyse and better understand the complexity of what is happening now so as to come up with solutions and answers to concrete needs in a wide range of practical areas – from healthcare and classroom ventilation to global supply chains. But beyond this, it must also be our aim as researchers to contribute to ‘pandemic preparedness’, i.e. ensure we are as well prepared as we can possibly be to deal with future crises of this kind. So the conference will not only involve dialogue and discussion of research results, it will also seek to explore potential for future cooperation.”

The question of what research is needed to be better prepared as a research community and a society to tackle global crises such as epidemics and pandemics – as well as those relating to climate, energy, nutrition and many other factors – was the subject of the keynote address by Sir Jeremy James Farrar, Director of the UK’s Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s biggest health research foundations. In his speech, which like the rest of the conference was given in English, he emphasised that in a pandemic, science was dependent on partnerships and trust, and in particular on the infrastructures established in advance: “You rely so much on what you have before the crisis! If you are trying to build any partnerships and collaboration in the midst of a crisis, you will either fail or you will be too slow to make a difference. What you have before a crisis in human capacity, infrastructure, scientific endeavour, trust, will largely determine your ability to respond in a very fast, dynamic crisis – which is likely to be the sorts of problems we will face in the 21st century.” Farrar added that science could not wait for a pandemic to happen before starting to build trust or offering policy advice.

A digital panel discussion at the end of the conference reviewed the interaction between science and society in Germany. The following took part: the infectiologist Professor Dr. Marylyn Addo, University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, the Director of the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories in Bamberg, Professor Dr. Cordula Artelt, the psychologist and expert in health communication Professor Dr. Cornelia Betsch, University of Erfurt, and Ralf Heyder, the head of the coordination office of Netzwerk Universitätsmedizin, based at Charité Berlin. Moderated by DFG Press Officer Marco Finetti, the debate focused on the impact and significance of the COVID-19 pandemic for science and research as well as the contribution of science and research to coping with the pandemic. Another topic was relations between science, politics and society and what conclusions the academic community is able to draw from the past year and a half.

At the end of the conference, DFG Vice President Professor Dr. Britta Siegmund summarised the essential insights that had emerged: “Curiosity-driven research that taps into different disciplines – i.e. multidisciplinary work in the best sense of the word – provides the most effective answers during a pandemic and beyond. Only in this way will we be able to achieve a higher level of preparedness. In order to be able to combat global societal challenges such as pandemics and the climate crisis, we need powerful global research infrastructures. For this reason, the call for cross-border academic cooperation has never been more urgent.”

Many of the projects represented at the conference are being funded by the DFG under various corona-specific calls. As early as March 2020, the DFG launched a call for proposals for interdisciplinary research into epidemics and pandemics, for example, resulting in total funding of over €31 million being provided for more than 50 interdisciplinary projects.

In addition, the DFG issued a total of seven rounds of calls between June 2020 and June 2021 under the newly created format “Focus Funding COVID-19”. Each call was dedicated to addressing particularly urgent research questions relating to the coronavirus pandemic where short-term solutions were needed. The topics of the focus calls were selected in advance by the DFG’s specially established Commission for Pandemic Research, whose task is also to provide academic support for DFG-funded research projects relating to pandemics and epidemics. In doing so, it pays particular attention to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation as well as strengthening synergies.

Further Information

Media contact:

  • DFG Press and Public Relations
    Tel. +49 228 885-2109

On the DFG Commission for Pandemic Research:

An overview of DFG-funded projects on coronaviruses and pandemics:

Contacts at the DFG Head Office:

  • Dr. Anne Brüggemann
    Humanities and Social Sciences 2: Social and Behavioural Sciences
    Tel. +49 228 885-2213
  • Dr. Jennifer Gronau
    International Cooperation Group
    Tel. +49 228 885-2388

A detailed report on the conference will soon be available online in the DFG magazine: