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Dealing with the global crisis through open science and innovation
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 21 - 08 - 2020

The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected nearly every country in the world since it first emerged in late 2019. According to the United Nations, it is the biggest health crisis of the recent time and considered as the greatest challenge being faced after World War II. In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic as it continued to spread globally with increased fatality and devastating political, psychological, economical, and social consequences.
As of today, this deadly virus has infected over 21.9 million and killed more than 774,000 people worldwide. In this shattering situation, governments around the world have no other option except extending collaboration with international organizations e.g. WHO, scientific communities, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and tech industries to take significant, urgent and aggressive actions in monitoring, containing and mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Through strong cooperation and experience-sharing, the international community could save lives, protect livelihoods and enhance the resilience of all inhabitants, especially the chronically vulnerable populations.
A global crisis, e.g. COVID-19 pandemic or any other health emergency, raises awareness and puts a spotlight to reinforce collaboration for open science and innovation in the global policy agenda to address the challenges faced by the world. Currently, scientists and researchers around the globe are working tirelessly to find effective treatments, solutions and vaccines. Almost all well-known scientific publishers have responded positively to address the challenges of COVID-19. They have freely provided temporary open access to the related research publications, books, datasets, and information for the global community, which is indeed a commendable step. It is pertinent to mention that the current situation has undoubtedly shone a light on the need and importance of open science to our society.
Openly available scientific literature provides opportunities for science to grow, especially during the severe economic crisis and with the limited R&D grants. Though, the above-mentioned generous gesture by the publishers is temporary, but still valuable and crucial to address the current global crisis. This endeavor could have profound impact not only on the developed nations to explore the scientific ways in addressing the implications of COVID-19, but also on the underdeveloped and developing countries, which have scarcity of resources for research, innovation and development.
The concept of open science and innovation is not new. In 2012, Jack Andraka, a young cancer researcher, invented a promising early detection testing kit for pancreatic cancer that cost only 3 cents and takes 5 minutes to test with a very high accuracy. This discovery was made possible due the availability of open access publications. Similarly, during the current unprecedented times, the openness in science and innovation may enable scientists around the world to invent appropriate methods, techniques, and vaccines for the treatment of COVID-19. The tenacious shortage of safe and inexpensive ventilators faced by hospitals is also a global concern. Fortunately, some manufacturers and inventors have come forward and publicly shared their designs and source code, which are being used to develop low-cost ventilators.
One the other hand, the availability of open datasets is imperative in furthering the scientific discoveries and experimentations. The pandemic has enabled the global community to openly share data through initiatives such as COVID-19 Open Source Dashboard by Johns Hopkins University, World Bank Open Data, and the COVID Tracking Project. To expedite and strengthen the efforts, more institutions should come forward to share their research with FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability) guiding principles to address the impact of pandemic.
Furthermore, it has become indispensable to create, promote and support a global open innovation ecosystem with distributed, more participatory, and more decentralized approaches. This endeavor could facilitate the translation of knowledge into impactful values for socio-economic prosperity. The COVID-19 pandemic is an advocacy test case to promote and harness the potential of openness in science and innovation for greater impact on our society. If the practice of open science and innovation is continued on a regular basis to address the most pressing challenges of the world, it would inevitably help to drive novel discoveries and untap new knowledge, solutions, and services for the benefit of mankind.
— The writer is a professor of Cybersecurity at King Saud University as well as founder & CEO of Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington D.C. Twitter: @khurramcyber


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