Accelerating the impact of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) research

Commitments of the Fonds de la recherche du Québec (FRQ)

The FRQ require the sharing of the results of all research they fund, in accordance with the Fonds de recherche du Québec Open Access Policy for the Dissemination of Research adopted in 2019.

Given that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic poses a significant and urgent threat to global health, additional measures must be taken to accelerate the dissemination of scientific knowledge on this disease. With a view to informing the response of public health authorities and saving lives, the FRQ are joining international efforts to share research data and findings on coronavirus disease (COVID-19). In March 2020, the FRQ committed to the principles of the statement  Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This statement, issued by the Wellcome Trust, has been endorsed by numerous funding agencies, editors, government agencies and scientific organizations around the world.

Principles for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) research

The statement Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak calls for the rapid and open sharing of research findings and data relevant to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This means ensuring that:

  • all peer-reviewed research publications relevant to the outbreak are made immediately open access, or freely available at least for the duration of the outbreak;
  • research findings relevant to the outbreak are shared immediately with the World Health Organization (WHO) upon journal submission, by the journal and with author knowledge;
  • research findings are made available via preprint servers before journal publication, or via platforms that make papers openly accessible before peer review, with clear statements regarding the availability of underlying data;
  • researchers share interim and final research data relating to the outbreak, together with protocols and standards used to collect the data, as rapidly and widely as possible – including with public health and research communities and the WHO;
  • authors are clear that data or preprints shared ahead of submission will not pre-empt its publication in these journals.

These obligations are in addition to those already set out in the Fonds de recherche du Québec Open Access Policy for the Dissemination of Research, which applies to all research funded by the FRQ. In particular, this policy requires that:

  • all peer-reviewed manuscripts be made openly accessible (in a journal or institutional or disciplinary repository), no later than 12 months after publication.

This obligation implies that peer-reviewed manuscripts that are made openly accessible immediately must remain openly accessible after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Advance planning for data sharing

Planning for the sharing of data prior to data collection is essential in order to implement the requirements of the statement Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

In research where it is planned to obtain participant consent for data collection, this consent should include the possibility of large-scale sharing. In research where data will be obtained from third parties (for example, public or private organizations), the conditions for possible large-scale data sharing in the specific context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic should be explored with the third parties, where possible and taking existing constraints into account.

In all cases, it is necessary to verify which ethical or legal standards might be applicable to the possible sharing of research data. Prior consultation with relevant ethics boards or a person knowledgeable in ethics may be advantageous in order to plan appropriate mechanisms for sharing research data and determine whether ethical approvals may be required for the purpose of sharing such data.

Implementing research data sharing

Sharing research data as widely and as rapidly as possible is one of the requirements of the statement Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This includes the sharing of raw data collected during research. This means considering, for example, the sharing of some data pertaining to symptoms, genetic analysis or individuals’ geographic location. In all situations, the sharing of research data must be done in accordance with the law, ethical approvals, and the confidentiality and consent of participants. Consequently, mechanisms appropriate to the sensitivity of the research data could be put in place to regulate sharing. This could include aggregating some data at the time of sharing or excluding from sharing information that could identify participants.

However, some research data may not be shared, including:

  • “directly identifying information”, i.e. information that identifies a specific individual through direct identifiers (for example, name or health insurance number), and;
  • data obtained from third parties (for example, public or private organizations) and subject to limitations on sharing. This could include, for example, data from certain government databases or data obtained with the authorization of the Commission d’accès à l’information.

Identification of funding recipients affected by the FRQ commitment

Individuals who receive funding from the FRQ specifically on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) must adhere to the principles of the statement Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This will be specified in the award letters sent to projects subject to this requirement. Funding recipients, managing institutions and ethics boards may refer to the award letter to check whether they are affected.

Given the exceptional emergency conditions under which coronavirus disease (COVID-19) research is taking place and the major impact that research data and findings could have on global health, the FRQ want to reiterate the importance of conducting research in a responsible manner in accordance with their Policy for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

Resources and questions

The official statement Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak can be consulted here. The FRQ have produced a French translation of the official version intended for funding applicants and recipients, which is available here.

For any questions, please contact Emmanuelle Lévesque, FRQ Ethics Advisor.

 

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