Imperial College London

Fighting coronavirus: Imperial researchers secure funds to help tackle COVID-19

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coronavirus concept

Two Imperial research projects are among the first to receive national funding as part of a stream of work to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

In the first round of funding announced by the UK Medical Research Council today, work will begin at the College to develop a potential antibody therapy for COVID-19, as well as clinical project to help to answer some of the key questions about the symptoms and course of the disease.

A total of six projects were announced in the first batch of UKRI funding, sharing an estimated £10.5m, with further rounds of funding expected in the coming weeks.

Antibody therapy

Professor Xiaoning Xu, from the Department of Infectious Disease, will lead on a project to develop a therapy to treat COVID-19.

Working with the University of Kent, Hong Kong University and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, the researchers will develop antibodies that target the virus with the aim of developing a new therapy for COVID-19.

Concept image of antibodies rushing towards a virus
The team has already identified antibodies that bind to coronaviruses, including the COVID-19 virus. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Antibodies are molecules produced by the body’s immune system that can specifically recognise and bind to structures, such as those on the surface of a virus, to block the virus entry and instruct the immune system to destroy it.

The team has already identified a panel of antibodies from people infected with the 2003 SARS coronavirus. These antibodies bind to highly pathogenic coronaviruses, including the COVID-19 coronavirus (SARS CoV-2).

This research could herald important breakthroughs that will put the NHS in a stronger position to respond to the outbreak Sir Patrick Vallance UK Chief Scientific Advisor

In collaboration with scientists from China, the researchers will use these antibodies to develop a potential therapy, with the aim of getting it to the stage where it is ready to enter clinical trials to determine if it can treat a range of coronavirus infections including the COVID-19 and emerging pandemic coronaviruses of the future.

Professor Xu said: “Working closely with colleagues both in the UK and China we will explore the potential for an antibody based therapy to treat this disease. We are happy to receive funding and now determined to getting the work underway as soon as possible.”

Clinical surveillance

In the second project (ISARIC4C), researchers from Imperial will work with colleagues from the Universities of Edinburgh and Liverpool to answer some of the most important questions about the course of the disease and the effects of treatment.

Professor Peter Openshaw
Professor Peter Openshaw will work with colleagues to collect clinical data and samples from hospital patients in the UK with COVID-19.

Professor Peter Openshaw from the National Heart and Lung Institute will work with colleagues to collect clinical data and samples from hospital patients in the UK with COVID-19. The data that this study will generate will underpin clinical decision making and provide a foundation for improved understanding of the disease.

Professor Openshaw, one of the three national co-Leads on the study, said: “This pandemic has highlighted a number of crucial questions for which researchers, healthcare professionals and crucially, the public and patients, need answers.

"We hope our work will underpin a huge range of research going on in the UK and to provide a clearer picture of the illness and risk factors.”

The team hope to uncover more about who is at higher risk of severe illness and why. what is the best way to diagnose the disease, what effects treatments have and what role the immune systems has in protection and in causing harm. In addition, they will focus on closely monitoring transmission in hospital and showing which bodily fluids help to transmit the virus.

We hope our work will underpin a huge range of research going on in the UK and to provide a clearer picture of the illness and risk factors Prof. Peter Openshaw NHLI, Imperial College London

The researchers aim to recruit the first 1,300 UK patients over the next year and to start communicating their initial results openly and within months. Research projects within the consortium being led by Imperial Investigators Professors Peter Openshaw, Graham Cooke, Wendy Barclay, Shiranee Sriskandan and Drs Ryan Thwaites and Vanessa Sancho Shimuzu.

ISARIC’s (International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium) builds on careful planning over the past 8 years and was set up as a legacy of national and international efforts in response to the influenza pandemic of 2009. It includes co-investigators from six UK universities and Public Health England.

Commenting on the announcement, Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir 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.” 

The two newly funded research projects add to the existing body of research into COVID-19 being carried out at Imperial College London, including:

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This article is adapted from materials provided by the Medical Research Council

See the press release of this article

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