December 9, 2020

End of year message from Sean Newell, Interfolio UK CEO

Well what a year it’s been. Strangely, despite the awful toll the virus is taking and the restrictions on our lives which seem endless, a lot of people have commented that this year has flown by so fast. Days have tended to blur into one another, mask-wearing has become a regular fixture of the everyday routine and terms such as zoom fatigue are now part of the standard lexicon. Now in December, some nine months since we entered the initial national lock down in the UK, the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine against coronavirus has been administered. Margaret Keenan, a grandmother aged 90 from Coventry, said being the first was “a privilege” and “the best early birthday present I could wish for” as it would mean she could spend time with her family and friends in the New Year “after being on my own for most of the year”. During pre-Covid times, the process for creating a new vaccine and the administrative hurdles that need to be crossed are onerous and challenging, often taking many years caused in part by funding processes, getting buy-in from relevant stakeholders and the general red-tape of the bureaucratic machine. With Covid the entire scientific world has become aligned to solving the same problem. Money has not been an issue and processes for receiving funding, that might have taken weeks or months previously have now been resolved in a matter of days. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the research community for getting us to this point where we can now all see a way back to what we once knew as normality.

We are all familiar with the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” and I think the development of the various Covid-19 vaccines is a fine example of this. Collaboration between researchers and institutions, sharing of data and engagement globally at a governmental level has contributed to this rapid development and roll-out of our passports to freedom. In terms of impact to society, it’s hard to think of anything more profound or more rapid than this vaccination program. The pathways to this impact are relatively short but this is not because, as some in the twitter-sphere are concluding, because of political will over scientific rigour. Rather it is in part because the roads of research have been cleared of all obstacles allowing the important process of discovery, clinical trials and testing to take place. This is a win for science and a win for society and is likely to have huge positive ramifications for funders and research organisations going forwards.

For us at Interfolio UK this past year has seen not only our team, but also all our customers adapt brilliantly to remote working. In some ways things have become slightly easier. For example I can have a conversation with an Australian funder in the morning, then a couple of meetings in London and Edinburgh and close the day with a presentation to a US Foundation in the afternoon. The Interfolio team is a tight-knit unit and we spend a lot of time looking out for each other, being mindful of the stresses that can arise from isolation. Weekly team meetings which involve elements of fun, happy hours, quizzes and games all contribute to improvements in our mental well-being. We even managed a company-wide Chariots of Fire race in the summer, involving some of our colleagues from Washington DC and Denver. Also during the year we welcomed a number of new members to the researchfish community from all over the world, including Crohn’s and Colitis USA, Nordforsk, EATRIS and MND Australia. As these funding organisations adopt the researchfish platform, we continue to connect the community, sharing best practice and ideas, as well as promoting dialogue, via our Digital Round Table webinar series and additional Zoom-based gatherings. Covid has inevitably dominated the airwaves and the engagement within the community, taking part in discussions with leading research funders from different parts of the world has been truly insightful. 

Tracking the research and understanding how we arrived at this place, in such a short time with such benefit is of critical importance. It is likely we will encounter another pandemic in our lifetimes and establishing systems and processes to enable us to be on the front foot is a must. The work that funders carry out in order to gain this understanding is fundamental to this overall aim. This includes the annual submission period for research outputs which is scheduled to take place in February and March 2021. Many funders have added Covid-specific additional questions to the standard set of common questions at the heart of the researchfish platform. I for one am looking forward immensely to seeing the results and working with the community to gain a better understanding of how we can help everyone in the research sector as well as the public at large. This is why I want to say a very big thank you to the researchers, to the administrators who work in the universities, to the funders and policy makers and everyone else working silently and diligently, who have contributed collectively to this wonderful step forward.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and hopefully, much brighter new year!

Sean Newell,

CEO, Interfolio UK