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£14.1 million funding announced for new COVID-19 research on treatments, vaccines and epidemiology

23 April 2020 

Twenty-one new studies into the novel coronavirus have been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

Washing hands

The new research projects include the first drug trial in primary care, studies on new vaccines and therapies, and research into disease transmission, behavioural interventions and policy approaches to COVID-19. 

This round of projects has received a total £14.1 million from the NIHR and UKRI as part of their rapid research response to COVID-19.

Three of the studies are being led by executive members of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation

Professor Isabel Oliver, Co-Director of the HPRU has received a grant of £0.4 million to evaluate public health measures to assess the effectiveness and impacts of the 14-day self-isolation advice on mental health and wellbeing. The grant will also be used to develop and test different messages to encourage people to follow public health advice, to better inform the current public health response.

Professor Lucy Yardley, the HPRU’s research theme lead has been awarded £0.2 million to adapt the ‘Germ Defence’ web app that was shown to reduce infections transmission in the home in the swine flu pandemic and seasonal flu years for COVID-19 using novel methods of public engagement and feedback. It will be disseminated in the UK and internationally, evaluating its effects on infection control attitudes and behaviour. 

Dr Anne Presanis at the MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge received a grant of £0.2 million to understand the severity of the epidemic – such as the proportion of infections that result in hospitalisation or death. The team will use Bayesian statistical models to combine information from multiple datasets emerging from various sources, such as numbers accessing health care, numbers of deaths, population surveillance data, and cohort and household studies.

Dr Ellen Brooks Pollock, Lecturer in Infectious Disease Modelling at the HPRU is involved in a fourth study, led by Dr Leon Danon at the University of Exeter, which will model the disease spread and movement to assess control strategies.

These projects build on the UK’s world-class expertise in global health 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.

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

Professor Matthew Hickman, Co-Director of the NIHR HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation, said: “We are very grateful that researchers linked to our HPRU have responded to PHE priorities and supported research evaluating the public health response and how SARS-CoV-2 transmission can be reduced.”

Dr Jonathan Sheffield, NIHR COVID-19 Research Operations Director, said: "In just a few weeks the UK's health and science communities have risen to the challenges presented by COVID-19 in deeply inspiring ways. Alongside the selfless work being done by our amazing frontline NHS staff, our world-leading research community is also putting its cutting-edge expertise to use in myriad ways.

"Though the studies announced today may vary in theme, they all represent some of the best and brightest scientific research into COVID-19 being done anywhere in the world." 

UKRI 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.” 

Six projects on vaccines and therapies for the novel coronavirus have already received £10.5 million in the first round of funding from NIHR and UKRI. Together the two rounds of funding have invested £24.6 million into 26 research projects to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Funded projects

Clinical trials

1) Testing new treatments for COVID-19 in primary care - the Platform Randomised trial of INterventions against COVID-19 In older peoPLE (PRINCIPLE) study

Professor Christopher Butler, University of Oxford, £1.7 million

Vaccine development

2) Investigating a promising RNA-based vaccine

Professor Robin Shattock, Imperial College London, £1.7 million

3) Developing an animal model of coronavirus infection

Professor Miles Carroll, Public Health England, £0.4 million

Therapy development

4) Creating a polyclonal antibody treatment

Dr Stuart Dowall, Public Health England, £0.4 million

Antibody testing

5) A new antibody test for coronavirus

Professor Richard Tedder, Imperial College London, £0.4 million

Population surveillance

6) Tracking coronavirus among households

Professor Andrew Hayward, University College London, £3.2 million

7) Assessing infection risk in healthcare workers

Dr Eleni Nastouli, University College London, £1.5 million

8) Monitoring disease resistance among children and teenagers

Professor Matthew Snape, Oxford Vaccine Group, University of Oxford, £0.6 million

9) Tracking progress of the outbreak in Scotland

Professor Aziz Sheikh, University of Edinburgh, £0.5 million

10) Understanding how COVID-19 affects pregnant women and babies

Professor Christoph Lees and Dr Ed Mullins, Imperial College London, £0.3 million

Behaviour and policy research

11) Evaluating the impact of self-isolation on mental health

Professor Isabel Oliver, Public Health England, £0.4 million

12) Understanding measures to tackle the epidemic in China

Professor Jane Duckett, University of Glasgow, £0.3 million

13) Research tools, guidance and training for global health

Professor Trudie Lang, University of Oxford, £0.3 million

14) Analysing the UK response to the pandemic

Professor Sally Sheard, University of Liverpool, and Dr Nina Gobat, University of Oxford, £0.3 million

15) Repurposing a public health website to reduce spread of coronavirus

Professor Lucy Yardley, University of Southampton and University of Bristol, £0.2 million

Virology 

16) Investigating how long SARS-CoV-2 can survive in air and on different surfaces

Allan Bennett, Public Health England, £0.3 million

17) Identifying crucial enzymes for virus spread

Dr Sumana Sanyal, University of Oxford, £0.2 million

Transmission and mathematical modelling

18) Real-time forecasting and scenario analyses to help control COVID-19

Dr John Edmunds, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, £0.5 million

19) Evaluating the role of delivery workers and supply chains in preventing disease spread

Professor Martie van Tongeren, University of Manchester, £0.3 million

20) Modelling disease spread and movement to assess control strategies

Dr Leon Danon, University of Exeter, £0.2 million

21) Building models using multiple datasets to understand the severity of the epidemic

Dr Anne Presanis, MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, £0.2 million

Visit the UKRI website to see full details of all studies funded.


Further information 

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About the NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

See: NIHR's response to COVID-19