CoVis: a new tool to discover reliable COVID-19 research

CoVis is a community-driven resource to help scientists kick-start their COVID-19 research.
  • Views 1,039
  • Annotations

By Peter Kraker, Girija Goyal, Maxi Schramm, James Akin and Christopher Kittel

For the development of therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19, scientists depend on validated knowledge on the coronavirus. But finding reliable research results is often difficult: with over 20,000 papers published on the topic in the last six months, scientists spend a lot of valuable time finding, reading and reviewing the literature.

CoVis is a new tool that enables scientists to kick-start their COVID-19 research. In this EU-funded project, experts compile seminal research in a freely accessible database. The resulting data is fed into a knowledge map, providing a quick and intuitive overview of the collected research output. Often key findings are addressed and substantiated by multiple research sources. In such cases, data and images from different sources are compiled into a visual dashboard called a ReFigure, to help readers quickly understand the various facets of the research topic.

The collection is not meant to be exhaustive, but to offer a single reference point for definitive research in eight key areas: immunity, vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, viral biology, host biology and clinical findings and epidemiology. After careful review and discussion with our users, we added an additional area: introduction to SARS-COV2 research. This includes foundational papers in coronavirus research to those who have little prior knowledge of the subject.

The COVID-19 knowledge map

CoVis makes it easier to get started on the topic, but also helps you to stay up-to-date. In order to do justice to the rapid development of COVID-19 research, the database is updated regularly by a dedicated team of curators led by immunologists and ReFigure founders Dr. Girija Goyal and Dr. James Akin. Potential additions to the listed resources are nominated based on the interest of the individual contributor, and proposed for inclusion along with an accompanying justification. The nominated resources are discussed by curators to assess their impact, or potential impact, for moving the field forward.

  1. Launch CoVis

How to contribute resources and join the curation team

We are inviting subject-matter experts to contribute to CoVis in a number of ways. You can provide feedback and propose research resources for inclusion in the map using a short form. Or if you would like to create your own compilations and interpretations of research findings around key issues, such as whether a drug is effective, we suggest creating a ReFigure (a user-generated collection of figures from different scientific resources) for inclusion in the knowledge map. Over time, we are looking to grow the curation team with dedicated experts who would like to regularly contribute to CoVis, to review submissions by other users and to provide feedback for the technical team.

Example of a ReFigure included in the knowledge map

CoVis is an open infrastructure following the principles of open science, and can therefore be fully reused. Content on CoVis is licensed under CC BY 4.0. The CoVis database is made available under CC0. Our software is open source and hosted on GitHub under the MIT license.

CoVis has been developed in cooperation between Open Knowledge Maps (Austria) and ReFigure (USA). is an open-source project which was developed with the support of the eLife Innovation Initiative. ReFigure is the flagship platform created by Scimpact, LLC, a social-impact startup with the mission to re-imagine the way scientific results are communicated. With a growing community of users, ReFigure makes research results more interactive to scientists of all training levels. Open Knowledge Maps is a charitable non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the visibility of scientific knowledge for science and society. As part of its mission, Open Knowledge Maps operates the world’s largest visual search engine for research, which enables a diverse set of audiences to explore, discover and make use of scientific content. Open Knowledge Maps is currently supported by the eLife Innovation Initiative for a much-needed upgrade of the technical platform.

The CoVis project team came together to improve the discoverability of key biomedical research on the novel coronavirus. We are very excited to see the first version of the map, which already includes several community contributions. We believe that the combination of a knowledge map and ReFigures enables both an overview and in-depth analysis of research resources.

CoVis is also Open Knowledge Maps’ first foray into collaboratively edited knowledge maps. To enable this feature, we created a connector to Google Sheets, where metadata, annotations and comments are collected and then automatically transformed into a knowledge map. In the future, we want to implement a more open, integrated editing component within our knowledge maps, but for now, this provides us with a quick and reasonable intermediate solution for an otherwise complex and difficult to implement feature.

We are grateful for the financial support provided by the EOSC Secretariat as part of the COVID-19 Fast-Track Funding effort. We invite you to try out CoVis, and we look forward to your input and feedback.


We welcome comments, questions and feedback. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at innovation [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

Do you have an idea or innovation to share? Send a short outline for a Labs blogpost to innovation [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

For the latest in innovation, eLife Labs and new open-source tools, sign up for our technology and innovation newsletter. You can also follow @eLifeInnovation on Twitter.