This text is a translation of the testimony of Bruno Canard that was read at the end of the national demonstration “L’Université et la recherche s’arrêtent” [University and Research on hold] on March 5th 2020 in Paris.
My name is Bruno Canard, research director at the CNRS [the French National Research Institute] at Aix-Marseille Université. My research team works on RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses, which include coronaviruses. In 2002, our young team was working on dengue fever, which got me invited to an international conference where we discussed coronaviruses, a large family of viruses that I did not yet know. Then, in 2003, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic emerged and the European Union launched major research programs to try not to be caught off guard by an unforeseen epidemic. The approach was very simple: how to anticipate the behavior of a virus that we do not know? Well, simply by studying all of the known viruses, in order to understand what can be transposed to new viruses, and in particular how they replicate. This type of research is uncertain, its results cannot be planned, and it takes a lot of time, energy, patience.
This is patiently validated basic research, on long-term programs, which may eventually have therapeutic outlets. It is also independent: it is the best vaccine against a scandal like the Mediator one [This was a large-scale scandal in France in which the drug Mediator of the French pharmaceutical company Servier, which was introduced on a large scale without prior careful and independent investigation, after several years was found to cause serious heart complaints, involving approximately 2,000 deaths and more than 4,000 victims in the trial, (note by translators)].
In my team, we participated in European collaborative networks, which led us to find results from 2004. But, in viral research, in Europe as in France, the tendency is rather to strain ourselves during an epidemic event and then forget about it. By 2006, political interest in SARS-CoV had disappeared; no one knew if it was going to come back. Europe has withdrawn from these major anticipation projects in the name of taxpayer satisfaction. Now, when a virus emerges, researchers are asked to mobilize urgently and find a solution for the next day. With Belgian and Dutch colleagues, five years ago we sent two letters of intent to the European Commission saying that we have to be prepared. Between these two letters, Zika appeared…