UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has provided three new studies that aim to lay the foundations for the next generation of vaccines with £25m of funding.
The three projects will be led by experts from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as Imperial College London.
Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College London is to lead on the study known as the G2P2 Consortium, which will harness expertise in molecular virology to better understand the evolving variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The researchers aim to track changes in the severity of the illness caused by the virus, the range of cells it infects, how well it evades the immune system, and how it is transmitted.
Ultimately, the results of the research will inform leaders about population health and whether new vaccines are required.
Dubbed IMMPROVE, meaning immune memory and mechanisms of protection from vaccines, the study at the University of Oxford will be led by Professor Teresa Lambe OBE and Professor Paul Klenerman.
IMMPROVE will investigate why some vaccines are more effective than others; specifically, why some people still get infected post-vaccination and if delivering treatments through the nose can draw out any further protection.
A third study will be conducted by the University of Cambridge with Professor Derek Smith at the helm.
It will look to predict which variant of SARS-CoV-2 could emerge next and measure how immune systems fare against that particular evolution. This will help researchers select the variant of the virus to use in the next vaccine.
Dr Stephen Oakeshott, who is head of infections and immunity at the Medical Research Council, said the projects will “build on the research legacy” from the UK’s response to the pandemic.
He said: “We are committed to helping the country be better prepared for future pandemics and this important work will provide important insight for public health and illuminate a pathway for next-generation vaccine development.”
Fundamentally, the research is about developing better and longer-lasting vaccines.
The funding for them is part of Tackling Infections, which is one of UKRI’s five strategic themes – this centres around preparing for future disease epidemics and addressing antimicrobial resistance.
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