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MGH

Published On May 20, 2021

POLICY

The Cracks in Walls That Divide Us

In the COVID-19 crisis, rival institutions joined forces. Can those collaborations endure?

It is now possible to imagine a world recovered from COVID-19. In that future, how will medicine have changed? These 10 essays explore the technical, social and political ripples of the pandemic.

On March 2, 2020, within days of the first reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States, a group of about 100 physicians and scientists gathered at Harvard Medical School to discuss the gathering storm.   

The meeting was notable in that it reached beyond institutional walls. It included not only people from Harvard, but also from the University of Massachusetts, MIT, Boston University, Tufts and all the teaching hospitals. It included local biotechnology firms, including Moderna, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Via video hookup, we had collaborators from the heart of the epidemic in China.  

From this daylong meeting ensued a remarkable collaborative effort, the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness (MassCPR). Working groups were established that very day and centered around different aspects of the coming crisis: patient care, epidemiology, diagnostics, pathogenesis, treatment and vaccines. Within a month, sufficient philanthropic support had been raised to release funds for more than 60 separate support services and collaborative grants to benefit the more than 500 scientists and clinicians involved.   

The past year has seen the worldwide biomedical community unite against a global health crisis with an unprecedented degree of data sharing and collaboration. This cannot help but have an enduring, catalytic effect on confronting the challenges ahead. Collectively, MassCPR and the global web of similar efforts have created an enduring collaborative community. Humanity will be the better for it.

Bruce Walker // Founding Director of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard.