Mali, like the rest of the world, has seen a rapid spread of COVID-19 since the first report of imported cases. Despite being a low-income country, Mali has leveraged scientific research resources via coordinated approaches to enable public health emergency planning and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mali’s approach includes the harmonization of research activities; leveraging of research laboratory capacity of the University Clinical Research Center, Mali International Center for Excellence and three other in-country laboratories for community COVID-19 testing; strengthening relationships amongst local and international stakeholders; and collaboration with the Ministry of Health to integrate scientific evidence into public policy and emergency management of COVID-19 through a platform of consultation and open communication. The country has implemented national coordination of its COVID-19 response by establishing a COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Committee and a COVID-19 Technical Coordination Committee, both within the Ministry of Health and working collaboratively with other stakeholders. Members of Mali’s COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Committee also serve as leaders of its principal academic and government clinical and public health research entities. This centralised approach has enabled the prioritisation of COVID-19 control activities, informed allocation of resources, evidence-based public health practices and timely decision-making in the pandemic setting. Though challenges remain, lessons learned from Mali’s harnessing of clinical research capacity to guide and support its COVID-19 response can be applied to future global health research challenges and illustrate the power of building public health-responsive research capacity in resource-limited settings through international collaboration.