Twenty-one new studies into the novel coronavirus have been funded by the UK government, including the first clinical drug trial in primary care, vaccine and therapy development, and studying epidemiology, disease transmission, behavioral interventions and policy approaches to COVID-19.
This second round of projects receive £14.1 million as part of the £24.6 million 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 (NIHR).
These projects build 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. They support 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.
UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “The research community’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been outstanding. In a matter of weeks, researchers have formed projects to develop potential vaccines, repurpose existing drugs and explore the potential for new medicines, and to examine how the virus is transmitted and causes wide variation in symptoms. Pre-clinical trials of vaccines and clinical trials of drugs are already underway.
“The pace at which this work has been carried out is tribute to the UK’s world-class research base and its dedication to the fight against this disease.”
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.
On 30 March, UKRI and NIHR launched a joint rolling call for researchers to apply for funding for short-term projects addressing and mitigating the health, social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.
MSD Research projects funded
Professor Christopher Butler, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, £1.7 million: The first clinical trial in COVID-19 patients consulting in primary care, ‘PRINCIPLE’, will initially test if the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine can reduce the need for people to go to hospital or speed up their recovery. They will recruit patients aged over 65 years (or aged 50-64 years with underlying health conditions), who consult in primary care (this trial is a national platform trial and is potentially available to all GP practices in the UK) and have COVID-19 symptoms. Patients will be tested for COVID-19 where possible, and will receive either the usual care provided plus hydroxychloroquine 200mg twice a day for 7 days, or, soon, azithromycin for 3-5 days, or usual supportive care without any experimental treatment. The trial aims to recruit over 3,000 people, and has been designed to be flexible, so new suitable treatments can be added into the trial when these become available. Read more on the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences website
Professor Matthew Snape, Oxford Vaccine Group, £0.6 million: With Public Health England, they will use an existing study of infectious disease immunity in children and teenagers 0 to 19 years old to study the presence of antibodies against COVID-19 (a marker of having had the disease and now having immunity) in approximately 400 children and teenagers per month for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and they will collect information on recent respiratory illnesses and relevant medical history.
Professor Trudie Lang, Nuffield Department of Medicine, £0.3 million: Building on lessons learnt in the Zika and Ebola outbreaks, the Global Health Network will deliver and share trusted research tools, guidance and training, for example providing guidance on how to run studies in local clinics and hospitals. They will work with partners internationally to create lasting research networks to support evidence generation in challenging settings, so that better quality, standardised data is shared faster worldwide. Read more on Centre for Tropical Medicine & Global Health (Nuffield Department of Medicine) website
Professor Sally Sheard, University of Liverpool, and Dr Nina Gobat, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, £0.3 million: Working with colleagues at the University of Oxford, they will analyse the UK pandemic response by collecting real-time responses from senior policymakers and stakeholders (PHE, DHSC, NHS) and the frontline experiences of healthcare workers, and by studying media and document sources. Their findings will inform senior policymakers.
Dr Sumana Sanyal, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, £0.2 million: The virus, SARS-CoV-2, uses enzymes within infected cells called proteases (enzymes which cut up other proteins), so it can replicate and spread. This study will identify which proteases are necessary for the virus, to provide targets for future drugs and vaccine development.