Penn State joins global effort for open access to emerging coronavirus research

A CDC Illustration of a coronavirus.

An illustration of the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. A novel coronavirus has caused an outbreak of respiratory illness, named COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019.

Image: Centers for Disease Control; Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM.

Penn State has joined a global coalition of research organizations pledging to provide immediate open access to emerging research findings related to the outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus, or COVID-19.

On Jan. 31, the Wellcome Trust issued a statement supporting a global response to the spread of COVID-19. Signatories commit to working together to provide research results to the World Health Organization immediately, share interim data or findings widely, and make all peer-reviewed research on the outbreak immediately open access.

Signatories include major academic publishers and U.S. regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as pharmaceutical companies, research foundations and other organizations. Penn State is the first U.S. university to join.

Penn State Senior Vice President for Research Lora Weiss said that the University moved quickly to sign on to the statement, with the hopes that Penn State’s stated commitment would encourage other U.S. universities to do the same.

“The rapid pace at which COVID-19 is spreading demonstrates why supporting open access to research is not just sound practice, but it could also help public health officials contain this virus,” said Weiss.

“We are delighted that Penn State has signed on to the joint statement, leading the way as a research university in committing to rapid and open sharing of research relevant to the new coronavirus outbreak and future public health emergencies,” said David Carr, program manager at the Wellcome Trust. “In doing so, Penn State joins nearly 100 signatories from leading scientific organizations around the world and in making a clear commitment to providing equitable access to data of significant public health benefit.”

Weiss also noted that joining the global coalition demonstrates Penn State’s firm commitment to the new University-wide open access policy, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020.

While nascent movements to release research data and results prior to peer review present new issues for the scientific community, the benefits of speeding the pace of science may outweigh the risks, especially in life-threatening situations.

“Open data sharing assures that the global community has every possible tool at its disposal to counter the spread of the virus and improve the health of those infected,” said Elizabeth McGraw, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and professor and Huck Scholar in Entomology. She said that examples of useful data to share could include basic epidemiological data, efficacy data on antiviral drug treatments and vaccines, models developed to predict spread and to study the impact of infection control practices, or protocols developed for rapid diagnostic tests for the virus.

“Sharing helps accelerate the pace of discovery, challenges scientists to revise and improve their predictions, and reduces wasteful duplication of effort,” McGraw said.

Weiss acknowledged that releasing data immediately into the public sphere presents new challenges that underscore the importance of journalists making it clear to their readers that such scientific findings are still preliminary.

“We must rely on well-informed journalists to responsibly report on preliminary data, and to help the public and policymakers understand the nature and meaning of the uncertainties that come with this new way of rapidly disseminating results,” Weiss said.

Following a Feb. 11 meeting in Geneva to address the outbreak, the World Health Organization established an R&D Blueprint to coordinate with researchers working in this area, share protocols for early investigations, and establish gaps in the current knowledge of novel coronaviruses.

Penn State librarians can assist faculty who would like to share datasets or related research outputs by suggesting appropriate repositories, curating data for reuse, linking to research assets, or preparing datasets for sharing. Investigators can visit for assistance or to make an appointment with a librarian.

At this time, there are no known cases of COVID-19 at Penn State and no reports of the virus in Pennsylvania. Penn State students, faculty and staff can keep up with the latest information from the University regarding the global coronavirus outbreak at

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