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23.03.20

Projects awarded £10.5m to boost Covid-19 vaccine research

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has began funding the first round of six new projects to the tune of £10.5m, as the UK government looks to speed up testing of a vaccine, development of new therapies and improving our understanding of how to treat the Covid-19 infection.

As the UK and wider global medical community continues to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, these six projects will receive the funding as part of UKRI’s £20m rapid research response, which is also backed and funded by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

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

Patients hospitalised within the NHS with the Covid-19 disease are taking part in a new clinical trial to test potential therapies. Other funded projects will develop new therapeutic antibodies and screen hundreds of existing drugs in the lab to find which ones show promise at tackling the coronavirus.

Another funded project is seeking to collect data on NHS coronavirus patients to answer many urgent questions – including which treatments worked best, how the disease was transmitted and why are some people at higher risk of severe illness – to better inform efforts to control the outbreak and improve treatment for patients in real time.

The research is aimed at supporting the UK government’s efforts to save lives, protect the vulnerable and support the NHS so it can focus on helping those most in need. Building on the UK’s world-leading expertise and capabilities in global health and infectious diseases, the research will continue to keep the UK at the forefront of shaping our understanding of the pandemic and best informing measures to tackle it, working collaboratively with experts around the world.

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.”

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UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, added: “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.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised the investment as a necessary step in the “midst of a global health emergency” to ensure the UK was using all of its extensive research expertise to help quickly develop new vaccines.

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance added: “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.”

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