P2PE: Contagion Science

P2PE: Contagion Science

SIF176A Prominence-to-Preeminence (P2PE) STEM Targeted Initiatives Fund

Contagion Science: An Integrative Science Program in Pandemic Science and Response

Project Managers: Christopher Barrett and Madhav Marathe

Approved: November 2021

Project Dates: 3/01/2022 – 2/28/2027

Total Funding: $5,000,000

Executive Summary

Researchers from the Biocomplexity Institute and Initiative plan to partner with the UVA Health System, School of Arts and Sciences, School of Data Science, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and School of Medicine to establish an integrative science program in pandemic science and response program. The goal of the program is to reduce the global burden of infectious diseases by combining novel foundations, engineering principles, and technologies. The focus is on pandemic planning and response as a “big science” problem. Ideas, concepts, and methodologies developed under this proposal will lead to new general theories for understanding large scale networked complex systems that can be translated to other disciplines like cybersecurity, ecology, and social sciences. Success will be defined in terms of the dedicated scientists who will continue this research beyond the initial five year period, and thereby extend the impact of this program well beyond SARS-CoV2.

Progress:

Within the past reporting period from March 1st, 2022, to February 28th 2023, the SIF project made significant progress towards several critical milestones, developed an internal programmatic structure, explored internal program needs, and strategically positioned itself to achieve long-term research success in the upcoming program period, as well as throughout the five-year funding horizon and beyond. Leveraging a “big science” approach, driven by academic rigor and deeply connected with scientific interests, the program successfully showcased its potential to serve as an integrative force that can overcome the limitations of academic silos and will serve as the connective tissue for future projects between the institutional program partners. 

As of December 2021, the program’s comprehensive partnership among University of Virginia Schools of Engineering and Applied Science, Data Science, and Medicine, the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Biocomplexity Institute and Initiative is supported by a joint MOU to establish program goals and form a joint vision for program sustainability. After initially hiring the program manager, the program PREPARE (Pandemic Research in Emergence, Planning, and Response) was then renamed to Contagion Science program to better align with external academic audiences and programmatic sponsors. By broadening the program focus, the participating institutional partners underscore the transdisciplinary character and the underlying scientific mechanisms that expand beyond pandemic research. The program community has come together through inclusive community-building events and activities, which have resulted in new personnel and research connections, transdisciplinary teams, cross-cutting interdisciplinary conversations, and ambitious research proposals.

Under guidance of program leadership, the relevant research portfolio is continuously being expanded to provide the ability to explore future extramural funding streams. Program outreach has led to strategic conversations, new program members, and partnership opportunities across Grounds that will translate into increased networking and research activity in the upcoming program period. 

Within the first program year, program members submitted several large, ambitious research proposals. Through partnerships developed under the program umbrella, members were awarded the highly competitive CDC Pathogen Genomics Center of Excellence as part of a nationwide network of five Centers of Excellence. This remarkable achievement, which can partially be credited to the efforts of the Contagion Science program, is certain to cause positive ripple effects across the Medical School, the Biocomplexity Institute, and throughout the University, broadly. Additionally, it supports and expands the existing work relationships with state and federal agencies and research sponsors. Programmatically, the Center of Excellence’s focus on operational pandemic response serves as an important complimenting building block in ongoing proposal preparation which is targeting foundational research challenges. Together, these elements will expand the Contagion Science program’s timeline beyond the five-year funding period and play a key role in the sustainability plan