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COVID-19 update March 24: NIHR-backed research underway

COVID-19 update March 24: NIHR-backed research underway

Patients with COVID-19 can now donate samples and receive possible drug treatments as part of research studies into the virus.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have announced six research projects totalling £10.5m to tackle COVID-19.

They include three studies supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands that also include research into a vaccine for the virus.

A clinical trial started last week in the UK to see if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19.

The drugs will be tested to see if they are safe and effective when added to the usual standard of care in those who agree to participate in the trial, which will have an ‘adaptive’ design, meaning it can test new therapies as they become available.

The first two therapies to be tested will be lopinavir-ritonavir and low-dose corticosteroids. The trial is called Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY).

The University of Oxford research team’s ambitious aim is to have data available to inform patient treatment within three months.

The second study will collect samples and data from COVID-19 patients in the UK to answer many urgent questions about the virus and provide real-time information, which could help to control the outbreak and improve treatment for patients.

Their questions and priorities include:

  • Who in the population is at higher risk of severe illness?
  • What is the best way to diagnose the disease?
  • What is happening in their immune systems to help or harm them?
  • Closely monitoring the effects of drugs used in patients with COVID-19
  • How long are people infectious for
  • From which bodily fluids; and are people infected with other viruses (e.g. flu) at the same time?

The CCP-UK Clinical Characterisation Protocol for Severe Emerging Infection study will recruit at least the first 1,300 UK patients who agree to take part over the next year and aim to start communicating their initial results in months.

The team’s capacity builds on planning over the past eight years as part of the International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium, and it includes co-investigators from six UK universities and Public Health England.

The third study by the University of Oxford will undertake preclinical and clinical testing of a new vaccine for COVID-19.

The vaccine is made from a harmless virus, an adenovirus that has been altered to produce the surface spike protein of COVID-19.

The vaccine acts by priming the immune system to recognise and attack the coronavirus. It uses the same technique as a vaccine the team previously developed for the closely related MERS coronavirus, which showed promise in animal and early-stage human testing.

The new funding will support preclinical testing of the new vaccine, vaccine manufacturing and then clinical trials in people.

The first stage of clinical trials will be in adults aged 18-50, later expanding to adults over 50 and school age children. If the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective in these earlier trials, vaccine manufacturing will be scaled up for larger studies.

Visit the UKRI website for more information about the other projects

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.”

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.