In the last year there has been an understandable intense focus on COVID-19, but it's so important that research continues to be funded across a range of areas. Antimicrobial resistance, for instance, was a hot topic and popular with policymakers a few years ago but appears to be dropping down the list of priorities now. Yet long-term more people will probably die of infectious diseases, related to a lack of working antibiotics, than will die of COVID-19, so it’s essential that research continues in this area.
Science is riding the crest of a wave of good will at the moment, because of its role in tackling COVID-19 and because of recent technology advancements, so it’s time to build on that and inspire the next generation of researchers.
We don’t know where the government’s focus will be in the coming years, but I’d like to see a big commitment made to Higher Education in STEM subjects. We’re already losing chemistry courses and programmes at institutions across the country, and we need help to make sure this doesn’t keep happening. Higher Education is so important if we want to develop a technology based economy but in order to convince students to study STEM subjects we need to make sure there are jobs for them once they graduate. In certain areas of the country there aren’t enough employment options for STEM graduates at the moment. We need to be thinking now about where the current generation of graduates are going to end up – whether that’s engineering or biotech or pure chemistry research – and make sure there is plenty of funding to support those areas.
COVID-19 has changed the research landscape, but it’s not all bad news. As a university lecturer I have been teaching about DNA vaccines and RNA vaccines for 20 years – it’s always been something just over the horizon, and now in the last 12 months it has become a reality.
It’s extraordinary to see how fast science can move when it’s given sufficient attention and resources. Much of this vaccine development has been going on for years in the background but it wasn’t made a priority. How many other brilliant ideas are already out there that could change the world and benefit humanity if given the chance?