The coronavirus pandemic has brought an unprecedented focus on COVID-19 research, resulting in a staggering number of scientific research papers produced in a relatively short time. Processing this data manually in a timely manner is not possible, but monitoring current information is essential for all researchers working in this area, as well as for the general public wanting to stay on top of the existing data. Addressing this particular issue was the goal of the project named “Up-to-date mapping of COVID-19 treatment and vaccine development”, which aims to monitor the scientific output, process it, and publish it in an easy-to-navigate database freely available on https://covid19-help.org/. The project executed by the company Direct Impact, s.r.o., combines IT tools such as AI and human expert processing of scientific information.
The result of our project “Up-To-Date Mapping Of COVID-19 Treatment and Vaccine Development” is the most comprehensive free database of promising substances for COVID-19 treatment. The database contains structured information about 1,367 substances (as of the end of February 2021) that attracted more than 11,000 unique visitors in February 2021.
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Objectives & Challenges
This project's main expected goal was to develop a database of substances effective against the novel coronavirus. The database is based on the continuously published scientific articles focused on COVID-19 treatment and prevention. With the support of EOSCsecretariat.eu, the project was expected to create a free, continually updated database enriched with multiple features.
The project proposal stated three main outcomes. Firstly, to shorten the delay between the date an article is published online and the date it is processed and added to the database. This required optimisation of data processing. Secondly, the database was expected to provide additional structured and detailed information about the potential substances, which could help highly specialised research teams.
Finally, the project set the goal to reach at least 5,000 unique users per month. Other key aspects of the project focused on actively promoting the database content and making all data accessible through API. Attracting a broad audience and openly sharing all data is an essential part of the aspiration of open science.
The EOSCsecretariat.eu grant’s support enabled the project to develop a free, unique, and (to the best of our knowledge) most comprehensive database of candidate substances for COVID-19 treatment and vaccine development. The database contains structured information about 1,367 substances (as of the end of February 2021 - the official end date of the activity supported by the EOSCsecretariat.eu) that attracted more than 11,000 unique visitors in February 2021. In this key performance indicator, the project has surpassed initial estimation more than twice, which is clear evidence that the database is helpful for users. The datebase is still continually updated and developed, with more than 1,490 substances and 13,000 unique visitors in March 2021!
There has been ever-increasing communication with scientific teams that use the site for their research and send in their newest publications directly to incorporate into the database, demonstrating their regard for it. Many new features have been introduced as well as different content, including surprisingly popular blog posts with thousands of unique views, which has raised website traffic beyond previous expectations. The project has moved forward and created a valuable resource for scientists.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the topic of potential substances for treatment or prevention of the disease is prevalent. The sheer amount of data is challenging to process, even for experts. However, the topic is very relevant for the general public, which can be easily influenced by the media and various public figures who are not experts in the field. This can make the information received confusing or even conflicting.
The database serves to provide scientific data that is annotated for easier orientation but without any bias. This way, the researchers can quickly familiarise themselves with the current data and build on it. The public can also profit from the database. Anyone can easily access both the supporting and the contradictory data on a substance, which could help them better understand it and form an opinion.
However, this requires knowledge of these resources - no matter how freely accessible and downloadable the content is, is it truly "open" when people do not know about it? Without its users, the whole project, however exceptionally executed, would not be worth much. Thus, the project recommendation would be to focus even more on promoting open and accessible data to reach as larger an audience as possible. Many different channels must be employed to make data accessible to the general population, considering the current trends.