Boost to COVID-19 vaccine and therapy research

Image of a scientist working at a lab desk to show Boost to COVID-19 vaccine and therapy research

COVID-19 vaccine and therapy research has been boosted by six new projects in rapid response. The six new studies into the novel coronavirus have been funded by the UK Government, including testing a vaccine, developing therapies and improving understanding of how to treat COVID-19.

This first round of projects receive £10.5m as part of the £20m rapid research response funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research.

A promising new vaccine that has been developed by UK researchers will be supported through pre-clinical and clinical trials to determine if it is safe and effective. The researchers will also be funded to develop manufacturing processes for producing the vaccines at a million-dose scale, so that – if clinical trials are successful – a vaccine could be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible.

Patients hospitalised in the NHS with COVID-19 are taking part in a new clinical trial to test therapies, starting with lopinavir-ritonavir and low-dose corticosteroids.

Other projects will develop new therapeutic antibodies and screen hundreds of existing drugs in the lab to find ones that show promise against the novel coronavirus.

Another project will collect data on COVID-19 NHS patients to answer many urgent questions – such as what treatments work best? How is the disease transmitted? And, why are some people at higher risk of severe illness? – to inform efforts to control the outbreak and improve treatment for patients in real time.

The research supports the UK Government’s efforts to save lives, protect the vulnerable and support the NHS so it can help those who need it the most. It builds on the UK’s world class expertise and capability in global heath and infectious disease that has already shaped our understanding of the pandemic and is informing measures to tackle it.

The projects will run over a maximum 18-month period, ensuring timely insights into the current epidemic.

This research funding has been coordinated with other funders and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure there is not duplication of effort and expertise is applied strategically.

In January, the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI, additionally funded £0.5m each to two centres: the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, which is contributing world-leading outbreak modelling and transmission dynamics and liaising with WHO; and the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, which has investigated the genetics and origins of the virus.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “The world faces an unprecedented challenge in our efforts to tackle the spread of COVID-19 and it is vital we harness our research capabilities to the fullest extent to limit the outbreak and protect life.

“Alongside the world-leading research overseen by the NIHR, these new six projects will allow us to boost our existing knowledge and test new and innovative ways to understand and treat the disease.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “The UK’s world-leading researchers have already made vital contributions to the understanding and responses to this pandemic. UK Research and Innovation, in partnership with NIHR and DHSC, has moved quickly to fund this new, additional research to rapidly test re-purposed therapies in patients, understand the disease and its variation in susceptibility, and boost the development of new vaccines and therapies.

“These efforts will be critical to finding better ways to treat and manage COVID-19, which we hope will help to save lives, protect the more vulnerable, and support the development, trials and in due course the scale up of production of much-needed vaccines.

“We will continue to support new proposals for research and innovation that will help the UK and others to tackle the pandemic caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.”

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said:“The UK is home to incredible scientists and researchers who are all at the forefront of their field, and all united in their aim; protecting people’s lives from coronavirus.

“The announcement made today reflects the vital work being undertaken by our scientists to help develop vaccines and treatments. This research could herald important breakthroughs that will put the NHS in a stronger position to respond to the outbreak.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “In the midst of a global health emergency the UK is using all its extensive research expertise to quickly develop new vaccines to target this international threat.

“This investment will speed up globally-recognised vaccine development capabilities and help us find a new defence against this disease.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Whether testing new drugs or examining how to repurpose existing ones, UK scientists and researchers have been working tirelessly on the development of treatments for coronavirus.

“The projects we are funding today will be vital in our work to support our valuable NHS and protect people’s lives.”