Global scientists are intensifying research into COVID-19, as the World Health Organization (WHO) moves to expand its scientific collaboration and monitoring of emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

A day-long virtual meeting of scientists from around the globe, convened by WHO, brought together more than 1 750 experts from 124 countries to discuss critical knowledge gaps and research priorities for emerging variants of the virus.

Welcoming them, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “Science and research have played a vital role in responding to the pandemic since day one and will continue to be the heartbeat of everything WHO does.”

The consultation was structured around six thematic areas covering epidemiology and mathematical modelling, evolutionary biology, animal models, assays and diagnostics, clinical management and therapeutics and vaccines.

Scientists noted the importance of research to detect and understand early on the potential impact of emerging variants on diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

There was a consensus on the importance of integrating the new SARS-CoV-2 variants research into the global research and innovation agenda while enhancing coordination across disciplines.

“Our collective goal is to get ahead of the game and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study variants of concern and understand their implications for disease control efforts,” said Dr Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, Head of WHO’s R&D Blueprint.