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While scientific peer review is often a process that can take several months, there are times when an accelerated timeline is required to meet a customer’s need. The worldwide coronavirus outbreak is one such situation.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented event for our country and the world,” said Keri Cagle, director of peer review for ORAU. “We have to be and are ready to provide the solutions our customers need as this situation evolves.”

The Department of Homeland Security recently asked ORAU to provide 10 experts for a COVID-19-related scientific peer review project. DHS needed the experts in less than four days. So Tim Ledford, peer review group manager, and his team got to work. They reached out to some of the more than 18,000 global experts in their database who met the customer’s requirements.

“Because of the urgency of the request there were significant time constraints to get the recruitment done, but we actually exceeded the number of reviewers asked for,” Ledford said.

This is certainly not the first time ORAU’s peer review team had to take urgent action.

Following a 2017 Zika virus outbreak in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, the Florida Department of Health asked ORAU to develop a peer review process to evaluate and recommend funding for additional Zika-related research projects.

ORAU executed the peer review in three months – half the time a typical peer review takes. ORAU provided the Department of Health with an efficient, virtual peer review process that included a system to accept proposals and an administrative review of proposals by international subject matter experts.

ORAU evaluated 81 research proposals, from which seven grants were awarded on topics such as support for a Zika vaccine, innovative diagnostic testing and therapeutics, and treatment options for children and adults. ORAU continues to work with the Florida Department of Health as annual progress on the projects is evaluated.

One of the keys to ORAU’s ability to move quickly is our proprietary an easy-to-navigate online portal, PeerNet, or the Proposal Evaluation and Electronic Review Network. PeerNet is a structured system where:

  • Scores and comments from multiple subject matter experts are entered
  • Common criteria and scoring methods allow for apples-to-apples comparison
  • Data is delivered quickly to inform decision making
  • Information is made available for routing to federal resources

Discussions are already underway at the federal level about research into treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Future stimulus packages approved by Congress and signed by the president are likely to include funding for these efforts.

“Unprecedented times call for ready solutions,” Cagle said. “We’re ready.”