Current Affairs Science

Oxford’s COVID-19 research receives £4m in government funding

The University of Oxford is to receive more than £4 million from the government to fund three COVID-19 research projects. Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced on Monday that £20 million in government funding will be awarded to six research projects across the UK.

The three projects which will benefit at the University of Oxford are:

  • Development of a new vaccine against COVID-19. The funding will enable pre-clinical and clinical vaccine trials (£2.2 million)
  • A clinical trial examining how existing treatments could be repurposed to treat coronavirus (£2.1 million)
  • Developing manufacturing processes so a vaccine could be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible, at a million-dose scale (£0.4 million)

The vaccine

  • Team led by: Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology, Jenner Institute & Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford
  • £2.2 million for vaccine development and trials
  • Funding will support preclinical testing of the new vaccine, vaccine manufacturing and then clinical trials.
  • The first stage of human testing will be in adults aged 18-50, later expanding the trial to adults over 50 years and school age children.

The science

  • The vaccine has been dubbed ChAdOx1 nCoV-19
  • It is made from a harmless virus which has been altered to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus after vaccination, to prime the immune system to recognise and attack the coronavirus.
  • This technique can generate a strong immune response from one dose and it is not a replicating virus, so it cannot cause an ongoing infection in the vaccinated individual.
  • Animal trials start next week
  • If successful, human trials scheduled to start next month

Repurposing existing treatments

  • Team led by: Professor Peter Horby, University of Oxford, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine
  • £2.1 million for research into the effectiveness of current drugs on COVID-19
  • A clinical trial started last week in the UK to test if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19.

The science

  • The first two therapies to be tested will be HIV drugs: lopinavir-ritonavir and low-dose corticosteroids.
  • The trial is called Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY).
  • The research team’s aim is to have data available to inform patient treatment within three months.

Manufacturing

  • Team led by: Dr Sandy Douglas, Jenner Institute, University of Oxford
  • £0.4 million for research into vaccine manufacturing capabilities
  • Aim: to develop manufacturing processes for producing the vaccine at a million-dose scale
  • To be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible. 
  • Working with Professor Sarah Gilbert’s team

The 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.”

Other projects funded include:

  • Dr Kenneth Baillie University of Edinburgh, Prof. Peter Openshaw Imperial College London, & Prof. Calum Semple University of Liverpool – £4.9 million 
  • To 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.
  • Professor Xiao-Ning Xu, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Imperial College London – £0.6 million 
  • Developing antibodies that target the novel coronavirus with the aim of developing a new therapy for COVID-19.
  • Professor Ultan Power and Professor Ken Mills, Queens University Belfast – £0.3 million 
  • Testing a library of approximately 1,000 drugs on cells in the laboratory to determine if any can reduce the toxic effects of novel coronavirus infection.

Lois Heslop

Lois Heslop is the co-founder of The Oxford Blue and was Editor-in-Chief for HT20 and TT20. She is in her second year studying Physics at Lady Margaret Hall, and hails from South London. Her other interests include classical music and opera, and she is currently a choral scholar.