Grant supports Saudi infectious disease research

Published online 28 April 2021

Despite the importance of studying epidemics in their local contexts, funding challenges continue to affect researchers across the region.

Kira Walker

Saudi Arabia's Health Minister, Tawfiq al-Rabiah, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Riyadh in December 2020.
Saudi Arabia's Health Minister, Tawfiq al-Rabiah, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Riyadh in December 2020.
A new research fund to help counter the global threat posed by infectious diseases has been launched by Saudi foundation, Community Jameel, to support collaborative research between Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University (KAU), and Imperial College London, UK.

The first of two rounds of the Jameel Fund for Infectious Disease Research and Innovation will provide grants collectively worth US$500,000, distributed equally between both universities for research projects of three- to six-months duration. "In this first round, awards are available for essential research into the transmission and pathogenesis of coronaviruses, including COVID-19, SARS, and MERS. This can include projects relating to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and understanding of these viruses," says George Richards, director of Community Jameel.

The fund will be administered by a joint committee of KAU and Imperial faculty, and was “designed…to create a balanced platform for peer-to-peer collaboration with funding shared evenly between both universities,” says Richards.

The grants are only available for Imperial researchers, Imperial research-led partnerships with KAU researchers and KAU-led partnerships with Imperial researchers.

While the grants will provide support to a small subset of Saudi researchers, elsewhere across the Middle East and North Africa most researchers are struggling to secure funding for COVID-19 related research.

“Funding challenges are always there for all research areas and aspects in the Arab world, and COVID-19 is just another front where the challenges are being felt,” says Ghina Mumtaz, assistant research professor of epidemiology and population health at the American University of Beirut.

Because epidemics have specificities that pertain to the local setting, including population demographics, socioeconomic disparities, healthcare infrastructure and national strategies for control and prevention, “it is very important to study the epidemic in its local context to have an evidence-based, informed response,” says Mumtaz.

Professor Adeel Chaudhary, research agreement coordinator at KAU, expects KAU researchers proposing projects in the field of translational research, specifically in molecular diagnostics, vaccine development and immunotherapy. Given the track record of previous KAU research, he anticipates a focus on developing mRNA-based vaccines, searching for other modalities, sequencing local COVID-19 samples in search for novel variants, as well as outlining strategies on how to handle current and future outbreaks.

“This collaboration will not only set a great example in targeting COVID-19 at the regional level, but also supports KAU in prioritizing its infectious disease research,” says Chaudhary.

Information on the fund can be found at