Oxford’s COVID-19 research receives government funding

A bird's eye view of Oxford        Credit: Greg Smolonski

A bird's eye view of Oxford Credit: Greg Smolonski

Three Oxford-based COVID-19 projects are among the first to benefit from a share of £20 million in government investment.

The three projects include work on an effective vaccine, enabling pre-clinical and clinical vaccine trials, as well as supporting researchers to develop manufacturing processes to produce a vaccine at a million-dose scale. Another project will examine how existing treatments could be repurposed to treat coronavirus.

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.’

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.’

The projects receiving funding are supporting and encouraging the UK’s world-class researchers and experts to speed up coronavirus research including developing new vaccines and treatments. Oxford’s funded projects are:

  • Professor Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford - £2.2 million for vaccine development and trials

The team are already developing a new vaccine against the COVID-19, as they initiated vaccine development as soon as the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus was released. This funding will support preclinical testing of the new vaccine, vaccine manufacturing and then clinical trials in people. 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 vaccine is made from a harmless virus, an adenovirus, 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. If the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective in these earlier trials, vaccine manufacturing will be scaled up for larger studies. The vaccine utilises 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. This earlier research was funded by the UK Vaccines Network (a DHSC and UKRI initiative) in 2018.

  • Professor Peter Horby, University of Oxford - £2.1 million for research into the effectiveness of current drugs on COVID-19

A clinical trial has started in the UK to test 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. The trial will have an ’adaptive’ design, meaning it can test new therapies as they become available. 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 ambitious aim is to have data available to inform patient treatment within three months.

  • Dr Sandy Douglas, University of Oxford - £0.4 million, research into vaccine manufacturing capabilities

The team are aiming to develop manufacturing processes for producing harmless virus, adenovirus vaccines at a million-dose scale, so that - if clinical trials are successful - a vaccine could be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible. They are working with Professor Sarah Gilbert’s team, who are developing promising novel coronavirus vaccines by modifying harmless adenoviruses.

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

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said, ’These studies 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.’


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