International cooperation in research and innovation

#TogethervsVirus - cross-border cooperation

Switzerland hosts, funds or is involved in several research infrastructures that can provide ancillary services and greatly contribute to the fight against coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). At a time when the whole world has come to a standstill as a result of lockdowns, these infrastructures are working tirelessly and in a coordinated manner to better understand this new virus or help stem the epidemic.


Wide range of possible uses for research infrastructures
One example is the use of high-energy X-ray sources, which allow the structure of matter to be determined down to the atomic level. These sources serve as ‘microscopes’ capable of revealing the structure of proteins and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Knowing the structure of a virus and the proteins that it binds to helps to shed light on how the virus works and allows potential treatments to be tested.

Several X-ray source infrastructures currently remain open for SARS-CoV-2 experiments and provide priority access for them. These include the Swiss Light Source and the SwissFEL at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Villigen (AG) as well as the European Synchrotron Radiation Source in Grenoble (ESRF). Other infrastructures, in particular the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) in Grenoble, are currently adapting their installations, which will enable these infrastructures to effectively contribute to SARS-CoV-2 research as soon as the installations are placed back in service.

Data collection and data analysis play a key role
Many international research infrastructures post qualitative data and expertise needed for research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus on specific data platforms. Some examples are presented below. For a general overview, please refer to the European Covid-19 Data Portal.

To advance Covid-19 research, the Swiss National Super Computing Center (CSCS) is providing scientists with access to its supercomputers. The CSCS, part of ETH Zurich and located in Lugano, has one of the world's most powerful supercomputers at its disposal.

The Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) is providing special data services in worldwide efforts to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and expertise in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, it provides compilations of qualitatively assessed and cross-referenced data from relevant studies and scientific literature on Covid-19 research. In addition, the SIB also provides analytical tools for the epidemiological course of the pandemic as well as planning tools to predict public health scenarios for dealing with Covid-19. These efforts are coordinated at European level by the ELIXIR network.

Based in Heidelberg, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) provides its members (incl. Switzerland and other countries) with software programs that allow various datasets at varying levels of aggregation, validation and/or completeness to be used across national borders, thus tapping into synergy potential.

The Swiss Clinical Trial Organisation (SCTO) is a partner organisation of the research network European Clinical Research Infrastructure Network (ECRIN ERIC). The SCTO helps Swiss researchers to design and conduct national clinical trials and, now increasingly, international multicentre studies involving several research institutions in various countries. SCTO is part of the European ECRIN ERIC network. ECRIN has established its own Covid-19 Task Force. With the newly created metadata repository (Clinical Research Metadata Repository), ECRIN seeks to improve the data situation for clinical studies in general and specifically for Covid-oriented clinical studies.

The Swiss Biobanking Platform (SBP) acts as a national reference platform for biological resources and their systematic recording in all research areas. Currently, SBP is used to collect specific natural resources, expertise and knowledge related to Covid-19. As a member of the European Research Consortium Biobanking and BioMolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI ERIC), SBP is also in close contact with the European research community and its Covid-19 activities.

Extensive scientific and technical expertise
In addition to their research skills, the major infrastructures draw from a vast pool of scientific and technical expertise, which is put to good use in the fight against the virus. CERN in Geneva now produces large quantities of hand sanitisers for local rescue teams. CERN's expertise and equipment also enable it to manufacture protective masks or develop artificial respirators. The designs of the respirators will be published under an open licence, allowing them to be reproduced at low cost and adapted to local regulations. However, European countries are not alone in leveraging research infrastructure in the fight against coronavirus: in South Africa, coordination of development of artificial respirators has been entrusted to one of the partners in the Square Kilometre Array giant international telescope project, partly due to its expertise in project management but also because of its particularly well-adapted industrial network.

Further Information

Further Information

New Coronavirus - Information from SERI
This online special report will provide regularly updated information on the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on various SERI activities.

Project register on Covid research
The Swiss National Science Foundation has created a project register on Covid research, which was launched in May (should go online from mid-May). This register will keep track of all third-party funded research carried out by the SNSF, Innosuisse and in relation to EU projects.

OECD monitoring
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) monitors Covid activities in individual countries, including Switzerland.