First scientific programme conference of NRP78

At the end of April 2021, around 200 researchers from NRP 78 and the Special Call on Coronaviruses met for the first programme conference.

Nearly 200 participants took part in the programme conference on 28/29 April 2021. Researchers from NRP 78 and the Special Call on Coronaviruses used the opportunity for intensive scientific exchanges.

Among the highlights of the conference were the keynote speeches. Australian virologist and evolutionary biologist Edward C. Holmes, who was, together with Yong-Zhen Zhang, the first to post about SARS CoV-2 on the internet, took the participants back to the beginning of the pandemic and showed how and through which species SARS CoV-2 could jump to humans.

Barbara Rath, director of research at the University of Bourgogne (France), founder and director of the Vienna Vaccine Safety Initiative and member of the NRP 78 Steering Committee, showed how design thinking can be used for vaccine development. The speeches were streamed live on the NRP 78 Youtube channel and can still be viewed there.

The scientific exchange was multifaceted: in break-out sessions, there were short presentations of the projects; in the poster session and discussion forums, the researchers were able to network and exchange ideas about the special dynamics of research on Covid-19.

The panel discussion on the first day focused on the question of how vaccines can be developed as quickly as possible and adapted to new mutations. Virologist Marion Koopmans, Roche research director William Pao and NRP 78 Steering Committee members Bettina Ernst and Giacomo Grasselli emphasised that collaboration between research and industry on the study of vaccines, but also on their further development and distribution, will be crucial in containing the pandemic also globally.

To promote dialogue between research, politics and society, a further panel discussion was held on the second day of the conference. After a supporting note by State Secretary Martina Hirayama of the SERI, the panel discussed how science can support politics and vice versa. On the panel were Marina Carobbio, member of the Council of States, Lukas Engelberger, president of the Conference of Health Directors, Christine Kopp, head of the FOPH's Covid-19 Task Force, Samia Hurst-Majno, bioethicist and vice-president of the Swiss National Covid-19 Science Task Force, and Marcel Salathé, president of the Steering Committee of NRP 78. They agreed that the authorities and politicians needed to listen to the scientific community. At the same time, the representatives of science and research in Switzerland stressed how crucial it was to have regular exchanges and access to decision-makers.

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