The U.K. government backs six projects aimed to fight the coronavirus outbreak, promising $23 million (£20 million) in funding. The projects, including two focused on vaccination trials, will help fast track the development of a vaccine to stop the spread of the coronavirus, leading to the death of more than 16,500 people across the globe.
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The U.K. government will fund the six new projects, including others developing antibodies to help target the virus, examining how people at the highest risk could be identified, and how existing treatments can be used for the treatment of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“Whether testing new drugs or examining how to repurpose existing ones, U.K. 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, UK’s Business Secretary, said.
The coronavirus disease emerged in late December 2019, in Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China. Since then, the novel coronavirus has spread to 168 countries and has touched all continents except Antarctica.
So far, the virus has infected 381,621 people in the world, with China and Italy reporting the highest number of cases. Italy has reported a sharp increase in cases and deaths, with 63,927 confirmed cases and 6,077 deaths, while China has 81,553 cases and 3,281 deaths.
The United States, Spain, Germany, Iran, and France report high transmission rates. The U.S. has 46,442 infections, Spain has 35,136 infections, Germany has 29,056 cases, Iran has 23,049 cases, and France with 20,123 confirmed cases. The United Kingdom has 6,726 infections and 336 deaths.
Scientists across the globe race to develop the vaccine that could help humanity combat the invisible enemy. The coronavirus, officially called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), causes severe respiratory disease and pneumonia-like illness to vulnerable populations, including older adults and those who have underlying medical conditions.
Treatments and therapies
Currently, NHS patients who are being treated for COVID-10 have signed up to take part in the trials spearheaded by leading institutions in the country, including the University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, Queens University Belfast, the University of Liverpool, and the Imperial College London.
The University of Oxford aims to develop manufacturing processes to produce a safe and harmless virus, adenovirus vaccines at a million-dose scale. In the advent that the clinical trials come out successfully, they can immediately make the vaccines available for vulnerable populations as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, the Imperial College London will receive funding for its research to develop antibodies that can target the SARS-CoV-2, which can lead to a new therapy for treating COVID-19. The scientists have already identified antibodies that may attach to the proteins from the coronavirus. They are working with Chinese scientists to develop antibody therapy to kill the virus.
The University of Oxford will also receive funding for a clinical trial of using existing drugs that may help treat patients who are hospitalized due to COVID-19. The doctors will see if the drugs are safe and effective. The trials use an adaptive design, which means it can test new treatments as they become available. The doctors will use current HIV treatments, including lopinavir-ritonavir and low-dose corticosteroids.
“Amid a global health emergency, the U.K. is using all its extensive research expertise to develop new vaccines to target this international threat quickly. This investment will speed up globally-recognized vaccine development capabilities and help us find a new defense against this disease,” Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, said.
Studying the disease mechanism
Another project includes one that will review the disease and how it affects different patients. It will shed light on who older adults or those with comorbidities are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19. The scientists will collect samples and information from COVID-19 patients in the U.K. to answer questions about the virus.
Some of the data to be gathered include who are at the highest risk of severe disease, what happens to the immune system, how to diagnose the condition accurately, how long are the patients infectious, what are the effects of the drugs, and which body fluids can carry the virus.