Política Internacional

International Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation in the context of the global Covid-19 pandemic, by Júlia Mascarello

New events and scenarios involving Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) may introduce new cooperation or competition dynamics in international relations. In this sense, the coronavirus pandemic itself is considered a transnational threat that, for its resolution, requires the development of ST&I through collective efforts.

First of all, it must be said that ST&I international cooperation can be explained by different perspectives. According to a liberal explanation, governments finance international cooperation for meeting policy goals such as national security and foreign relations or for meeting public goals such as producing scientific knowledge to promote economic growth. However, this perspective also recognizes that besides public finance, international cooperation occurs among scientists according to their own motivations and the attempt of states in orientating the scientific agenda tends to be ineffective, accompanying a historical tendency of reducing scientific nationalism. In this sense, scientists may collaborate as a way to share costs of ST&I projects, to facilitate access to material resources, to share data, and to exchange ideas between scientists (Wagner, 2006).

In contrast, authors that have a realistic perspective understand that states may have an influence in international collaboration among scientists and that there is competition among them even in a cooperative context. Based on that, states cooperate to have knowledge and control of their partners’ ST&I capacities or to improve its own technological capacity which ensures its scientific-technological and economic superiority (Krige; Kai-Henrik, 2006; Krige, 2014). As a result, ST&I is understood as a way to exercise power and influence in the International System, so it becomes a national goal (Skolnikoff, 1993; Strange, 1994). However, in a world where states are not self-sufficient and depend on each other at some level (Keohane; Nye, 1998) to develop its ST&I capacities, international cooperation may be necessary.

Some cooperative initiatives in ST&I have been established to face the pandemic, which is presented in Table 1, with the identification of partners (states, companies, or scientists) and objectives. It must be stated that the initiatives’results are not included in this article since it consists of recent collaborations. The methodological approach consisted of a broad search on google using the combination of the words international cooperation and covid-19 or pandemic or coronavirus, and also science, technology, and innovation and covid-19 or pandemic or coronavirus. The search resulted in several recent news and articles involving covid-19 and a few documents.

Table 1: Cooperative initiatives in ST&I involving coronavirus

Initiative’s Name Partners Objectives
Not identified.
  • Harvard scientists from Medical School (United States);
  • Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health (China);

(Shangai Institute of International Studies, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
Not identified.
  • Harvard doctors (United States);
  • Xijing Hospital (China);
  • Hospitals in Northern Italy;

(Apuzzo and Kirkpatrick, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
Not identified.
  • Pittsburgh virology laboratory (United States);
  • Pasteur Institute in Paris (France);
  • Themis Bioscience Pharmaceutical company (Austria);

(Apuzzo e Kirkpatrick, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
Not identified.
  • BioNTech biotechnology company (Germany);
  • Shangai Fosun Pharmaceutical (China);

(Burger, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
Not identified.
  • BioNTech biotechnology company (Germany);
  • Pfizer pharmaceutical company (United States);

(Pfizer, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
Not identified.
  • GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company (United Kingdom);
  • Sanofi Healthcare Company (France);

(Devlin, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
Not identified.
  • GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company (United Kingdom);
  • Innovax biotechnology company (China);
  • Xiamen University (China);

(Pharmaphorum, 2020).

To produce medicines for treatment and vaccines.
European and Developing Country Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP)[1]
  • European Union;
  • Africa;
Joint calls to support coronavirus research and strengthen research capacities in sub-Saharan Africa (European Commission, 2020).
Development of therapy and diagnosis to combat coronavirus infections
  • European Union;
  • Innovative Medicines Initiative;
  • European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations;
  • Brazilian Foundations on research support (FAPs); (FAPESC, 2020).
To identify new therapeutic agents and early, effective and reliable diagnostic systems related to the coronavirus (FAPESC, 2020).
Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Diseases Preparedness (GloPID-R) Not identified. To connect an international network of funders to scientists who are conducting epidemic-related research and keep research results up-to-date in order to remain alert to emerging epidemics so that research funders are prepared and ready to respond in the event of the emergency of a next epidemic (WHO, 2020a; GloPID-R, 2020).
Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
  • Norway;
  • India;
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;
  • Wellcome Trust;
  • Global Economic Forum;
  • United Kingdom;
  • Germany;
  • Japan;
  • Canada;
  • Ethiopia;
  • Australia;
  • Belgium;
  • Denmark;
  • European Union;

(CEPI, 2020).

To finance and coordinate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases that generate epidemics (AAAS, 2020; CEPI, 2020).
  • Germany;
  • Friends of GISAID non governmental organization;
  • United States;
  • Singapore;
  • Sanofi Pauster Foundation (France);
  • Seqirus[2];

(GISAID, 2020)

Provide public access to the most complete collection of influenza virus genetic sequence data and clinical and epidemiological data through its database (GISAID, 2020).
WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease
  • WHO;
  • China;
  • Germany;
  • Japan;
  • Korea;
  • Nigeria;
  • Singapore;
  • Unites States;

(WHO, 2020b).

To quickly inform national (China) and international planning on the stages of response to the coronavirus outbreak and preparation for geographic areas that had not yet been affected (WHO, 2020b).
R&D Blueprint
  • WHO member countries;
To access the level of existing knowledge about the virus and thereby speed up the availability of tests, vaccines and medicines (WHO, 2020c).
  • WHO member countries;
To centralize data from patient studies from different countries to try to find a quick cure for Covid-19 (Carbinatto, 2020).
Solidarity I
  • WHO member countries;
Testing promising drugs to cure the disease in at least 10 countries (Carbinatto, 2020).
Solidarity II
  • WHO member countries;
To run mass tests on the population to identify antibodies against the coronavirus and also to account for asymptomatic or mild cases (Carbinatto, 2020).
  • Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) from France;
  • Spain;
  • United Kingdom;
  • Germany;
  • Belgium;
  • Netherlands;
  • Luxembourg; (De Negri et al, 2020; INSERM, 2020).
To register treatment data against covid-19 in about 3,000 patients from France, Spain, United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg (De Negri et al, 2020).
Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB)
  • WHO;
  • World Bank;
  • (AAAS, 2020; GPMB, 2020).
To monitor and access preparedness for global health crises (AAAS, 2020; GPMB, 2020).

Source: Developed by the author with open sources (AAAS, 2020; Apuzzo and Kirkpatrick, 2020; Burger, 2020; Carbinatto, 2020; CEPI, 2020; De Negri et al, 2020; Devlin, 2020; FAPESC, 2020; GISAID, 2020; GloPID-R, 2020; GPMB, 2020; Pfizer, 2020; Pharmaphorum, 2020; Shangai Institute of International Studies, 2020; WHO, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c).

Based on Table 1, it can be noticed that the initiatives involve scientists cooperating with scientists through their laboratories and Universities, scientists cooperating with companies, cooperation among companies, cooperation among states, states cooperating with companies under multilateral initiatives, and states, in general, cooperating with other states through multilateral initiatives or Organizations. It shows, according to the literature on scientific international cooperation, that international cooperation in ST&I is not restricted to states, but it can include multiple actors (Legrand; Stone, 2018). However, the states’ absence in some cases, such as cooperation among scientists and among companies, does not mean that they will not influence these relationships. Actually, this trend is also confirmed by some works on scientific international cooperation, that point out that even when promoted by scientists or companies, states may affect or steer initiatives towards their own motivations (Wagner, 2006).

In the cases in which cooperation occurs among scientists, for example, even if it can be understood that they may be cooperating driven by their personal motivations, one must notice that some states may have more capacity of influencing the cooperation results of these scientists network towards their own interests. The same may happen in the case of cooperation among companies, since besides they seem to have autonomy when cooperating with other companies, states are interested in the cooperation results once it may bring them economic returns that satisfy the national interest (Moravcsik, 1992).

The table also shows that, when the private sector is involved, cooperation normally regards vaccine and/or treatment development, which means that these actors are more oriented towards specific results as it is the development of a product. On the other hand, in academic cooperation, the objectives are less specific or oriented towards a vaccine and/or treatment development. In addition, multilateral initiatives are more oriented towards sharing data, information, and experience among countries. It means that depending on the partners involved in cooperation, we may have different objectives and, consequently, different results.

Moreover, in the universe of the identified international cooperation initiatives, it is noticeable that cooperation occurs among countries from the Global North especially when it involves vaccine and treatment development. When the Southern countries are involved it is mostly in research collaboration funded by the North. However, in this specific context, when it occurs, North-South cooperation has been characterized as scientific and technological cooperation, differing from the traditional pattern of technical cooperation. Additionally, in some cases, there is the opportunity of scientists from the South to collaborate with scientists from the North and to participate in global scientific consortiums, things that could denote a more horizontal relationship. This horizontality may also be caused by the recognition of the know-how of developing countries in dealing with epidemics as well as its developed healthcare system, its materials and human resources (Prizzon, 2020). It can also be noticed that besides China’s previous experiences as a developed countries’ partner in ST&I cooperation, its recent experience in dealing with Covid-19 made the country an important partner in sharing data and information and producing vaccines and treatments.

Furthermore, within the existing Covid-19 initiatives, there seems to be a tendency that, while scientists have been acting in a less nationalistic way, sharing and disseminating their research as well as developing joint research and setting aside the prioritization of publications, a more nationalist stance accompanied by a scenario of competition has been established by the states and companies. The recent confrontations between China and the United States regarding the attempt to find the guilty for the pandemic exemplify the increase of tensions and the maintenance of competition even in a context in which these countries are cooperating among their scientists (Long, 2020). After all, states are concerned with minimizing the damage for themselves and using science to find vaccines and treatments that make them find a solution as quickly and as fast as possible. As a result, being the first to get out of the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic would resume its growth possibly resulting in a leadership position in the post-pandemic (Holmes, 2020; Sanger et al, 2020). The same pattern can be noticed in companies since the race for patents of a new vaccine is a reality that denotes that, despite their collaborative initiatives, there is competition among those actors (Harasimowicz, 2020).

Finally, besides it seems to be a cooperative context, in which there are several cooperative initiatives from different partners, with relevant objectives, there is also competition among those actors and countries. It reveals that international ST&I cooperation is not restricted to development purposes but it can be competitively used by states to reach its national interests.


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  1. “EDCTP brings together the European Union, 16 African countries and 14 European countries to fund research to combat infectious diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is fully incorporated into the EU-Africa High Level Political Dialogue (HLPD) on Science, Technology and Innovation, which develops long-term joint research and innovation priorities” (European Commission, 2020).
  2. Global company from Commonwealth Serum Laboratories established in Australia in 1916, leader in influenza vaccine technologies and pandemic response solutions (Sanofi Pauster, 2020 Seqirus, 2020 CSL, 2020).

About the author

Júlia Mascarello is a PHD candidate in International Relations at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) (juliamascarello@hotmail.com).

How to cite this article

Cite this article as: Editoria Mundorama, "International Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation in the context of the global Covid-19 pandemic, by Júlia Mascarello," in Revista Mundorama, 28/04/2020, https://mundorama.net/?p=27071.

Professor e pesquisador da área de política externa brasileira do Instituto de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de Brasília (iREL-UnB). É editor da Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional - RBPI (http://www.scielo.br/rbpi) e de Meridiano 47 (http://www.meridiano47.info). Pesquisador do Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).