Three University of Oxford research projects will receive shares of a £20million government investment to combat coronavirus. Six UK projects will benefit from this research funding, announced by Business Secretary Alok Sharma on Monday.

The three projects include work to develop an effective vaccine, to manufacture a vaccine at a million-dose scale, and to test drugs which may help treat confirmed COVID-19 patients.

A research team led by Prof Sarah Gilbert, developing a new vaccine to protect against COVID-19, will receive £2.2million. The funding will support pre-clinical testing of the new vaccine, new manufacturing, and clinical trials in humans. The team have developed a vaccine, made from an adenovirus, and is planning to begin testing on adults aged 18-50 next month.

Dr Sandy Douglas’ research term, aiming to develop processes to manufacture vaccines at a million dose scale, will receive £0.4million. This means, if clinical trials of a vaccine are successful, the vaccine can reach high-risk groups as quickly as possible.

Prof Peter Horby’s research team, testing whether existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19, will receive £2.1million. The team aims to have data available to inform patient treatment in 3 months. The trial will first test two HIV drugs.

An Edinburgh University project receiving £4.9million in funding will collect samples and data from COVID-19 patients to help control the outbreak and provide treatment. An Imperial College London team aims to develop antibodies to target the novel coronavirus, which may help to find a potential therapy. A Queens University Belfast project will test drugs on cells to investigate how toxic effects of coronavirus can be reduced.

The £20million is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research and by UK Research and Innovation. This follows the government’s funding of £30million to the National Institute for Health Research for research into COVID-19 and £10million to increase Public Health England’s capacity to test people and monitor the virus.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Whether testing new drugs or examining how to repurpose existing ones, UK scientists and researchers have been working tirelessly on the development of treatments for coronavirus. The projects we are funding today will be vital in our work to support our valuable NHS and protect people’s lives.”

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said: “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.”

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 6 projects will allow us to boost our existing knowledge and test new and innovative ways to understand and treat the disease.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “In the midst of a global health emergency the UK is using all its extensive research expertise to quickly develop new vaccines to target this international threat. This investment will speed up globally-recognised vaccine development capabilities and help us find a new defence against this disease.”

Image: Ellie Wilkins