Trust project awarded funding to tackle coronavirus

A Trust project is 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, work will begin on a clinical project at the Trust to help to answer some of the key questions about the symptoms and course of the coronavirus disease.

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

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, honorary consultant physician at St Mary's and from the College’s National Heart and Lung Institute, will work with colleagues to collect clinical data and samples from hospital patients around the UK with COVID-19. The data generated from the International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium (ISARIC) study 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.

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 are being led by Trust investigators Professors Peter Openshaw, Graham Cooke and Shiranee Sriskandan, alongside Imperial College London researchers Professor Wendy Barclay, and Drs Ryan Thwaites and Vanessa Sancho Shimuzu.

ISARIC builds on careful planning over the past eight 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, the UK’s 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.”

This research is an example of the work carried out by Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre, a joint initiative between Imperial College London, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and two NHS hospital trusts. It aims to transform healthcare by turning scientific discoveries into medical advances to benefit local, national and global populations in as fast a timeframe as possible.