University of Oxford to receive £4m to fund three coronavirus research projects

The University of Oxford is to receive more than £4 million from the government to fund three coronavirus research projects.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced on Monday that six research projects across the UK will benefit overall from a share of £20 million in government funding.

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."

Alok Sharma, Business Secretary

The three projects which will benefit at the University of Oxford include a team developing a new vaccine against COVID-19, a clinical trial which is testing if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with the virus and another which is developing manufacturing processes so a vaccine could be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible.

  • DEVELOPING A NEW VACCINE: Professor Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford - £2.2 million

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.

  • A CLINICAL TRIAL: Professor Peter Horby, University of Oxford - £2.1 million

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.

Credit: ITV News Meridian
  • DEVELOPING MANUFACTURING PROCESSES: Dr Sandy Douglas, University of Oxford – £0.4 million

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.

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."

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary