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NIHR and UKRI launch £20 million funding call for novel coronavirus research

Published: 04 February 2020

Researchers are being invited to submit proposals for projects to tackle the novel coronavirus outbreak, in a £20 million ‘rapid response’ initiative funded jointly by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation.

The investment will ensure that world-class UK academic and industry experts, working with international partners where appropriate, can initiate new and additional research as quickly as possible.

Projects will contribute to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and management of the virus, including the study of behaviours that may contribute to how it is spread and can be contained.

This fund is in addition and complementary to the £20 million to fund vaccines for coronavirus and other infectious diseases announced by the Health Secretary, which will go to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

The coronavirus outbreak has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization, and confirmed cases in the UK were announced on Friday 31 January.

UK research teams have already made vital contributions to the understanding of the virus. Further research will be critical to mitigating the severity of the outbreak.

To support this, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Chief Medical Officer, and Chief Executive and Executive Chairs of UK Research and Innovation have agreed the £20 million call for research projects that will contribute to our understanding, diagnosis, prevention or management of coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are working night and day to help contain the spread of coronavirus. Researchers have a vital role to play in developing new vaccines and treatments.

“Today we’re putting an extra £20 million for an open call for research into coronavirus. We want to hear from researchers working to understand, prevent and control this disease.”

Chief Medical Officer for England and co-lead for NIHR, Professor Chris Whitty said: “This call for research is an example of how the UK’s health research sector can move swiftly to tackle issues of global importance.

“The NIHR and UK Research and Innovation are launching this call together to ensure that every scientific avenue is explored. An important part of this call is research into possible vaccines for the novel coronavirus, prioritising those that have the potential to be developed rapidly.”

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Over 200 years ago we developed the first vaccine, helping eradicate smallpox completely from our shores. Today’s new funding will help our scientists build on that scientific heritage, giving them the tools they need to meet the new challenge of global infectious diseases - both now and in the future.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “The UK’s world leading research capability is making a vital contribution to the understanding of this outbreak and the global effort to address it.

“To further support this, we are working with our partners to ensure new and additional research can be identified and initiated as quickly as possible.”

The rapid funding call comprises two separate calls seeking research proposals on:

  1. Vaccines and therapeutics (closes 13 February)
  2. Diagnostics and addressing the epidemiology, spread, containment or underpinning knowledge of coronavirus (closes 27 February)

The projects will run over a maximum 18-month period, ensuring timely insights into the current epidemic. 

The calls will contribute to the global response to coronavirus by actively collaborating with and being informed by the WHO’s Global Coordinating Mechanism (GCM) for R&D in epidemics, the Global Infectious Disease Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) and the CEPI. The calls will also coordinate with the research calls announced by the Wellcome Trust and the European Commission.

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