The first cluster of patients suffering from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was identified on December 21, 2019, and as of July 29, 2020, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections have been linked with 664,333 deaths and number at least 16,932,996 worldwide. Unprecedented in global societal impact, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested local, national, and international preparedness for viral outbreaks to the limits. Just as it will be vital to identify missed opportunities and improve contingency planning for future outbreaks, we must also highlight key successes and build on them. Concomitant to the emergence of a novel viral disease, there is a 'research and development gap' that poses a threat to the overall pace and quality of outbreak response during its most crucial early phase. Here, we outline key components of an adequate research response to novel viral outbreaks using the example of SARS-CoV-2. We highlight the exceptional recent progress made in fundamental science, resulting in the fastest scientific response to a major infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. We underline the vital role of the international research community, from the implementation of diagnostics and contact tracing procedures to the collective search for vaccines and antiviral therapies, sustained by unique information sharing efforts.