7TH APRIL, 2020

How Previous Pandemics Have Inspired Medical And Social Innovation

Although the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is new, pandemics are certainly not. The first recorded one was in 429BC, named the Plague of Athens, which resulted in 100,000 lives lost. Indeed hundreds more pandemics have followed over time, although some have been more devastating than others.

While every pandemic is unique, they do share some commonalities. The world has changed immeasurably over the centuries, and each pandemic has triggered some huge leaps forward in science, medicine, societal behaviour and standards of living. Despite the cruelness and loss of life through each pandemic, all of them have served to bring about change. And it’s innovation that has got us there.

Here we look at two of the most well-known pandemics of the last century and some of the innovation that resulted from them. Similarly, we look at the innovation efforts going on right now to tackle the latest pandemic, coronavirus COVID-19.

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918

Spanish flu hit Europe in early 1918. Incredibly virulent, it spread fast particularly in tightly packed, densely populated areas. Claiming between 50 and 100 million lives, the numbers of people getting sick and dying varied massively across the globe. The reasons for this have been studied by epidemiologists ever since, although poverty and poor living conditions were a huge factor.

Once the pandemic had passed, health authorities started to realise that systemic changes would be required to protect communities in future. The 1920s saw many governments embracing innovative new ideas around the delivering of socialised medicine - healthcare offered free at the point of need and available to all. Russia was in fact the first country to launch its centralised public healthcare system, funded by state taxes, and of course our own NHS came into existence in 1948.

The Swine Flu pandemic of 2009

Early reports of local swine flu cases in Mexico came about in the early part of 2009, however it wasn’t just governments and health authorities that jumped into action. Back then, Tamiflu or Relenza were frequently prescribed to alleviate flu symptoms and reducing spread of the virus, however, the true effectiveness of these drugs has long been disputed. Many researchers in the UK, particularly at the University of Oxford, also rushed to understand more about this new flu virus and how it was spreading. Although contagious and affecting individuals of all ages, mercifully the vast majority of cases suffered only mild symptoms - but that didn’t stop the race to innovate new treatments and research. At that time, multidisciplinary teams of virologists, clinicians, immunologists, pharmacologists and ethicists from across the world came together to change the way governments respond to pandemic threats. Since them, they have also undertaken vital research around how countries can put systems in place that allows them to respond swiftly to pandemics and to learn lessons from them. Scientific innovation has since been ongoing, not just in terms of finding an improved flu vaccine, but to learn more about viral flu pandemics of this nature in general.

Innovation and coronavirus COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a flurry of initiatives across the UK and Europe. The race is on of course to ultimately find a vaccine although estimates currently sit at around 18 months to 2 years before one can be offered on a global scale. Despite several companies across the world already claiming to have developed a vaccine that’s viable, human trials and safety guarantees take time. In the meantime, scientists are working to hopefully repurpose a range of existing drugs to fight the effects of COVID-19, including HIV treatments, arthritis treatments and malaria drugs. Although they may not represent a ‘cure’, it’s hoped that finding a tried and tested solution for treating coronavirus could alleviate symptoms and improve patient outcomes.

But it’s not just pharmaceutical companies that are fighting the war against COVID-19. Innovation is taking place in all sectors, from testing and distribution to supply chains and ventilator production. One thing’s for sure; nothing about the future is certain at the moment, but the ingenuity of the human race and its enduring entrepreneurial spirit will no doubt once again prevail.

How R&D Tax Credits can help UK companies with the costs involved in innovation

Long before coronavirus took over our day-to-day lives, the UK government was keen to inspire companies large and small to innovate. This is why, back in 2002, it launched research and development (R&D) Tax Credits.

R&D Tax Credits are available to any UK company that’s subject to Corporation Tax - not just those in science or technology-related sectors. Essentially the scheme works by helping with the costs involved in eligible research and development activities, for example the creating of a new product, process or service or the appreciable upgrade of an existing one. SMEs can claim as much as 33 pence for every £1 of applicable R&D expenditure, which can seriously add up. The relief is offered either by reducing the amount of Corporation Tax a company has to pay, or as a cash lump sum for businesses making a loss.

Has your company made a clear advancement in science or technology lately?

It could be worth thousands of pounds of extra financing. Have a look at our R&D Tax Credits page to find out more and how to apply.

Plus, if you’re curious to see how much your company could claim by putting in your own figures, there’s a handy R&D tax credits calculator you can use on the Tax Cloud website. Developed by the R&D tax relief experts at Myriad Associates, it’s a fast, accurate and professional way of seeing what you could be owed.

Need further advice or to ask a question?

We have nearly 20 years of experience in all things R&D tax relief and will be pleased to help. Call our friendly team on 0207 118 6045 or use our contact form. No matter which business your company operates in and whatever the claim size.

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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