Photo/Illutration A research paper discussing the impact of the novel coronavirus on infected children (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan lags behind other advanced countries in research of the novel coronavirus, a factor that compromises its ability to develop drugs to treat the disease and implement steps on the basis of solid scientific findings.

A study by Masahiro Tsuji of the Center for Research and Development Strategy, an arm of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, showed that Japan in 2020 ranked 16th among nations with 1,739 science papers produced on the coronavirus by its researchers.

Last year, Japan’s ranking edged up to 14th with 3,551 reports.

As of May this year, Japan placed 12th with 1,600 papers.

The rankings show that Japan has the worst performance among other Group of Seven nations in terms of the volume of scientific reports produced.

The United States remained at the top of the rankings during those three years. China, Britain and India were among the top five countries over the same period.

Japan’s academic prowess also paled when the quality of its papers was assessed on the basis of the number carried by five leading medical journals, including Nature and The Lancet.

In this area, Japan’s ranking fell to 30th in 2021 from 18th in 2020.

The country’s dismal performance, according to experts, stems from a paucity in the number of Japanese researchers exploring the subject, their research environment and relative lack of funding in comparison with other nations.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health sets aside $4.09 billion (600 billion yen) annually for studies of contagious diseases.

In contrast, the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, which serves as the command center in medical research projects in Japan, allocates a paltry 9 billion yen.

Annual research funding for transmissible diseases compared poorly with other medical research projects in Japan.

For instance, 18 billion yen was spent on studies of cancer, while regenerative medicine projects using iPS cells were funded with 16 billion yen.

A government panel of experts pointed out in a report in June that the country’s lackluster research showings were behind a delay in the development of home-grown vaccines and drugs. The panel was set up after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida highlighted the need to assess Japan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tsuji noted that Japanese scientists were generally slow to publish their findings on the coronavirus.

That meant policymakers “were not able to take proper measures promptly to address the issue,” he said.

The Asahi Shimbun