Treatments, vaccines and diagnostics

NIHR’s research infrastructure, schools and units are funding and supporting a large number of research projects on therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics to tackle COVID-19.


NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) are collaborations between world-leading universities and NHS organisations that bring together academics and clinicians to translate lab-based scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies.

Four early phase platform trials - ACCORD, CATALYST, TACTIC and DEFINE - are assessing new and existing drugs that could be potential treatments for COVID-19. Our BRCs are providing support for these at expert centres across the county. 

ACCORD, for example, has begun trialling five drugs to treat COVID-19, ranging from existing drugs such as heparin to therapies still in clinical trial for conditions such as muscular, lung and blood disorders.

These platform trials are being coordinated by the NIHR Respiratory Translational Research Collaboration, which is also supporting a trial of an inhaled drug that may help people reduce the symptoms of COVID-19 (SNG001 study). 

BRCs are also supporting vital industry-led research to improve the treatment and care of patients with COVID-19. For example, clinicians at NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, working with engineers at UCL and Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, have developed a breathing aid that can help COVID-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily without the need to use invasive ventilators. The device has been delivered to 40 hospitals across England.

Some BRCs are repurposing their current funding to support COVID-19 research within their existing research themes. For example, the ATOMIC trial funded by NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre is testing the efficacy of daily azithromycin, a commonly used antibiotic, in preventing progression from moderate disease to severe respiratory failure in patients who present to hospital with COVID-19, but who are suitable for initial management as outpatients. The trial has just recruited its first patient.

And our BRCs are supporting research studies that have Urgent Public Health Research status, such as the convalescent plasma arm of the REMAP-CAP trial, an international platform trial testing different treatments for patients who are severely ill with COVID-19, and the ILIAD -7 trial, which is investigating whether human recombinant interleukin-7 can boost the immune system’s ability to fight coronavirus infection.

The NIHR Innovation Observatory (NIHRIO) - the national medical horizon scanning facility for future medicines, devices and diagnostics - is helping to keep track of all the trials into COVID-19 treatments. Since lock-down in mid-March 2020, the NIHRIO team has been working closely with colleagues at NHS England, NICE and MHRA to provide intelligence to support national decision making.

Using some of the data gathered, NIHRIO has also developed and published a trial tracker for the therapeutic and diagnostic pipelines for COVID-19 that is freely available on their website. The tracker is updated daily and provides a full picture of the development pipeline for COVID-19 medicines and tests. The hard data underpinning the tracker is being used to support prioritisation of medicines and diagnostics at a national level.


NIHR Clinical Research Facilities (CRFs) are purpose built facilities in NHS hospitals where researchers can deliver early-phase and complex studies. NIHR Clinical Research Facilities are providing the expertise and facilities for first in human trials of new vaccines for COVID-19.

Our Clinical Research Facilities are dosing volunteers with the experimental ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, developed by researchers at University of Oxford funded by NIHR and UKRI. This vaccine is currently being tested in healthy volunteers and has begun further trials in a broader age range of volunteers.

In addition, researchers at the NIHR Imperial BRC are supporting another NIHR-UKRI-funded vaccine study, investigating an RNA vaccine. This study has begun recruiting its first healthy volunteers for human trials.

Medtech and diagnostics

NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs) support researchers and the life sciences industry to develop new medical technologies and provide evidence on commercially-supplied in vitro diagnostic tests.

To support the response to COVID-19, the NIHR MICs are providing evidence on commercially available diagnostic tests, evaluating new point-of-care tests, and responding to the need for medtech solutions for COVID-19, such as more ventilators, PPE and mental health support.

The MICs are key partners of the COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR) study, funded by the NIHR, UK Research and Innovation, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation. Four MICs are facilitating access to a network of experts across the country who specialise in evaluating in vitro diagnostics and can help develop the study.

In addition, individual MICs are undertaking research and support for COVID-19 medtech and diagnostics research. For example, the NIHR Newcastle In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative is working with other MICs to publish rapid reports that summarise the evidence for the different COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are commercially available.

The NIHR Surgical MedTech Co-operative has launched a COVID-19 PPE Challenge to understand the real day-to-day challenges for front line healthcare workers in maintaining PPE and to gather simple, effective solutions that might be rapidly scaled up.

On the mental health front, the NIHR MindTech MedTech Co-operative has been awarded £100,000 to kick-start research into how digital technology can be used to help support young people with mental health problems, including those emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NIHR BRCs are likewise supporting research into diagnostics, with the NIHR Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre leading a review of published research on COVID-19 antibody tests that has shown when they might be most effective.

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