Pharma Focus Asia

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Scientific Research in the Life Sciences

Massimo Riccaboni, LucaVerginer

The COVID-19 outbreak has posed an unprecedented challenge to humanity and science. On the one side, public and private incentives have been put in place to promptly allocate resources toward research areas strictly related to the COVID-19 emergency. However, research in many fields not directly related to the pandemic has been displaced. In this paper, we assess the impact of COVID-19 on world scientific production in the life sciences and find indications that the usage of medical subject headings (MeSH) has changed following the outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic has mobilized the world scientific community in 2020, especially in the life sciences. In the first three months after the pandemic, the number of scientific papers about COVID-19 was fivefold the number of articles on H1N1 swine influenza. Similarly, the number of clinical trials related to COVID-19 prophylaxis and treatments skyrocketed. Thanks to the rapid mobilization of the world scientific community, COVID-19 vaccines have been developed in record time.

Materials and Methods:

The present analysis is based primarily on PubMed and the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terminology. This data is used to estimate the effect of the start of the COVID 19 pandemic via a difference in difference approach. This section is structured as follows. We first introduce the data and then the econometric methodology. This analysis is not based on a pre-registered protocol.

The scientific community has swiftly reallocated research efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, mobilizing knowledge across disciplines to find innovative solutions in record time. We document this both in terms of changing trends in the biomedical scientific output and the usage of MeSH terms by the scientific community. The flip side of this sudden and energetic prioritization of effort to fight COVID-19 has been a sudden contraction of scientific production in other relevant research areas.

Citation: Riccaboni M, Verginer L (2022) The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientific research in the life sciences. PLoS ONE 17(2): e0263001.

Editor: Florian Naudet, University of Rennes 1, FRANCE

Received: April 28, 2021; Accepted: January 10, 2022; Published: February 9, 2022.

Copyright: © 2022 Riccaboni, Verginer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: The processed data, instructions on how to process the raw PubMed dataset as well as all code are available via Zenodo at

Funding: The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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