Fast Grants against Covid-19, an extension of Emergent Ventures

Emergent Ventures, a project of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, is leading a new “Fast Grants” program to support research to fight Covid-19.  Here is the bottom line:

Science funding mechanisms are too slow in normal times and may be much too slow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast Grants are an effort to correct this.

If you are a scientist at an academic institution currently working on a COVID-19 related project and in need of funding, we invite you to apply for a Fast Grant. Fast grants are $10k to $500k and decisions are made in under 48 hours. If we approve the grant, you’ll receive payment as quickly as your university can receive it.

More than $10 million in support is available in total, and that is in addition to earlier funds raised to support prizes.  The application site has further detail and explains the process and motivation.

I very much wish to thank John Collison, Patrick Collison, Paul Graham, Reid Hoffman, Fiona McKean and Tobias Lütke, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Chris and Crystal Sacca for their generous support of this initiative, and I am honored to be a part of it.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world (FT):

The president of the European Research Council — the EU’s top scientist — has resigned after failing to persuade Brussels to set up a large-scale scientific programme to fight Covid-19.

In contrast:

During World War II, the NDRC accomplished a lot of research very quickly. In his memoir, Vannevar Bush recounts: “Within a week NDRC could review the project. The next day the director could authorize, the business office could send out a letter of intent, and the actual work could start.” Fast Grants are an effort to unlock progress at a cadence similar to that which served us well then.

We are not able at this time to process small donations for this project, but if If you are an interested donor please reach out to [email protected].

Comments

I hope somebody does experiments to see how viral load affects severity. See Zvi Mowshowitz https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/3ArEA7tHDXQxE6PED/taking-initial-viral-load-seriously

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3078840/coronavirus-low-antibody-levels-raise-questions-about

Coronavirus: low antibody levels raise questions about reinfection risk
Scientists in Shanghai say some recovered patients show no signs of the neutralising proteins
Early-stage findings could have implications for vaccine development and herd immunity, they say

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And we want a grant for finding antibody loads vs immunity.

https://www.barrons.com/articles/restart-economy-antibody-testing-cuomo-trump-51586352123?mod=hp_DAY_3
According to the Bloomberg report, the plan would begin by relaxing restrictions in small cities that haven’t seen a boom in Covid-19 cases. The plan could be put into effect in as little as four weeks. The plan could rely on blood tests that determine whether people have previously been exposed to the virus, and might be immune.

Those tests are just beginning to become available, and while they have been the subject of enormous attention in recent days, scientific questions remain. It isn’t clear what volume of antibodies to the virus that causes Covid-19 need to be present for a person to be immune from future infection, or how long that immunity lasts.

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Hmmm. If you have not had a boom in the virus then go about your business until you see a boom in the virus. This is living with the virus, we do not plan to eradicate it.

This plot entirely depends on the immune period, and we are having some doubts. But the alternative, no lasting immunity is disaster. What choice do we have?

The application site link doesn't work.

Thanks, fixed.

The grants are restricted to university researchers only? What about the Mittelstand, public health agencies, or a hospital?

The WHO test was developed in major part at the Charite, described this way - "The Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is one of Europe's largest university hospitals, affiliated with Humboldt University and Free University Berlin.[3] With numerous Collaborative Research Centers (CRC) of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft it is one of Germany's most research-intensive medical institutions." And could Olfert Landt apply for a grant, considering his company was the first to develop a test - back in mid-January. If there is anything experience has shown, it is that university researchers are simply too bureaucratic and slow to be as effective as dedicated medical institutions or innovative mid-sized companies.

I imagine the university researcher could collaborate with companies or hospitals or other agencies if that would make sense. I can see a faculty member and his group coming up with an idea for a rapid test but not having the facilities OR bandwidth to engineer the science into a solution that could be used

'10 meeelion dollars ... Why are you all laughing?'

A suggestion for an enterprising economist. Start putting together data on the disorderly shutdown of the US economy along with critical services supply chains to see if there are any intersections.

Fast.

I find it slightly amusing that an initiative backed by the Collison brothers is unable to process small donations. All exciting, nonetheless.

How about a fast grant to someone who can create a website to enable you to accept small donations????

Which did not involve penny ante antics.

As someone who gave a small compared to $10m amount to a previous round, I can see the point. If they have access to big funds and can move fast, they should.

And we have other avenues. Spending money in our communities is probably a top one at this point.

And as someone who previously considered it a virtue to buy the most excellent product, I now find myself searching out Made in USA.

Ymmv. Just my thoughts.

And good on @Jack!

YOU could set up a gofundme and then donate the final collected amount in a lump sum.

How about the organization sets up a gofundme and the I won't be in the middle!

That seems trivial to do.

There is quite a lot going on with the kerfuffle at the European Research Council (see unanimous statement by the council here: https://erc.europa.eu/news/resignation-mauro-ferrari-%E2%80%93-statement-scientific-council ). Ferrari was evidently a loose cannon. However, it is true that science funding locked into standard grant cycles is bound to be slow to react. U.S. "mission" agencies will look good in retrospect on this score.

Loose cannon. Maybe a more accurate cannon would be more effective.

If I were in a decision making position right now I would look at every lamp post with some consternation. I guess we aren't there yet.

From DW on April 3 - "A vast majority of Germans approve of the strict social distancing rules introduced across the country on March 23. Across the political spectrum, 93% believe they are appropriate."

This is from an accompanying opinion piece - "Its approval ratings are the highest of any governing coalition in 23 years. Merkel, who had largely avoided public appearances since the beginning of the year, enjoys the highest ratings ever of this legislative period.

Citizens clearly tend to place trust in the political leadership they know during times of crisis. Two further factors, however, also help account for this approval rating boost. One is that the government has appeared level-headed in its actions. The other is that Germany, the country where many had grown exasperated over leaders' inability to complete the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, or properly maintain schools and roads, has so far weathered the coronavirus crisis considerably well — especially by international comparison.

Merkel is heeding advice provided by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's public health agency. Not only that. Merkel, who many had believed lacked talent in holding public speeches, recently made a emphatic television address, in which she shared important facts. Granted, there might be the occasional disagreement with state premiers. But Germany's federal system, which is often severely criticized, has proved particularly apt at responding to different stages of coronavirus infections across the country. Germans far and wide have come to realize what a good job the country's countless district administrators, public health workers and mayors are doing."

That statement is really explicit by eurocratic standards.

"On Friday 27 March, all 19 active members of the ERC’s Scientific Council individually and unanimously requested that Mauro Ferrari resign from his position as ERC’s President. ::: Professor Ferrari subsequently resigned on 7 April 2020. Therefore, his resignation in fact followed a written unanimous vote of no confidence. In contrast, Professor Ferrari has stated that the reason for his resignation is that the Scientific Council did not support his call for the ERC to fund a special initiative focused on the COVID-19 virus."

Nothing like being called a liar in public by your employer saying you didn't quit, we fired you.

I'm interested in this grant, as many of us in academia are madly working on forming new teams and getting proposals out the door for things like the c3.ai grant (which has a bit more strings-attached than I expected, so I'm still looking around).

My first impression of this grant is that the grant-issuer unilaterally declaring "we will only accept 10% overhead" means that this is not a fast grant, but a grant that takes a lot of special permissions for the researchers to get from their university. You can all shake your fists all you want, they control the budgets so you can't go around them.

For comparison, the c3.ai grant has no overhead but that program was under development for months with the necessary negotiations with the participating universities. They just released the first call early because of the pandemic.

The EU comparison is very misleading. The ERC is for basic science, and specifically not for reacting to new needs or specific health or industry applications. There is a different agency for that, Horizon. They launched an emergency call on 31st January and had selected 17 projects for funding by March 6th.

It is not excessive bureaucracy to call the fire brigade rather than a chemistry lab if your house catches fire.

https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/emergency-coronavirus-research-commission-selects-18th-project-develop-rapid-diagnostics-2020-mar-31_en&pk_campaign=whatsnew_newsletter

"Science funding mechanisms are too slow in normal times and may be much too slow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast Grants are an effort to correct this."

Will these Grant's produce vaccines faster than the slow Grant's of billions to produce vaccines for novel SARS viruses which began circa 2005 and continued until circa 2015 when the GOP elected by the tea party finally cut off most funding to efforts to prepare for a return of SARS like epidemics?

Note, the Democratic Congress held hearing about epidemic preparedness when they held the majority.

The GOP held hearings tens times as long on Clinton.

So, will these grants last longer to ensure preparedness for the next return of SARS even when the GOP fights to cutting funding and effort preventing future pandemics because they see the threat of Korea or Iran hitting the US with a nuke as an existential threat requiring an added trillion in spending restarting the 50s/60s nuclear weapons race to close the missile gap with Korea and Iran?

I have immunity-related insights from following a diet of eating fermented food twice a week. Cold/cough rare in a huge joint family of 40 plus. I have always wondered about this.

A one year study of different age groups/ethnicity which can lead to product development is feasible.

Any scientists interested? share email in comments please.

the title on the fastgrants.org page reads “fast-rant”, with a typo missing the g

Potential funder here. Two questions on transparency:

1. Who are the panelists? I don't see any information on the Fast Grants website, even about their profiles.
2. What is the thought process on allowing the PI to keep the grant confidential? As a funder, that concerns me from the point of view of accountability, both for Fast Grants and the PI.

Does anyone know people thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on specialist care or solving problems in that space? If so, I'd love to talk with them for a research project I'm working on. It's a paid opportunity. If anyone comes to mind, please ask them to email me. jayar [at] themeta [dot] io

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