Coronavirus: Vaccine taskforce launched by UK Government

A total of 21 new research projects, including one at Edinburgh University, will be backed by £14m of funding.

Coronavirus: Vaccine taskforce launched by UK Government Getty Images

A taskforce to accelerate efforts in the UK to develop a coronavirus vaccine has been launched by the government.

Led by the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, it will provide financial and other support to those working to find a Covid-19 vaccine.

A total of 21 new research projects combating coronavirus will receive a combined £14m of fresh investment.

Among these is a project at the University of Edinburgh which aims to track the progress of the Covid-19 epidemic in real time by using anonymised electronic health records from 1.2 million Scots.

The research, led by Professor Aziz Sheikh, will also process blood samples and swabs of the virus taken from a sub-sample of participants to determine who has been exposed and to sequence the virus genomes.

If vaccines or anti-viral therapies become available, their effectiveness will be monitored too.

Prof Sheikh’s project was backed by £500,000 from the the government’s investment pot.

The new funding follows a pledge from UK ministers to funnel £250m into efforts to develop a vaccine.

It also comes after an initial £10.5m was allocated to six promising coronavirus projects in March, two of which are enabling pre-clinical and clinical vaccine trials.

As well as providing industry and research institutions with the resources and support, the new taskforce will review regulations to allow quick and safe vaccine trials.

It will also scale up manufacturing so that when a vaccine becomes available, it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.

Representatives from government, academia and industry will form the taskforce.

UK business secretary Alok Sharma, speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, said: “UK scientists are working as fast as they can to find a vaccine that fights coronavirus, saving and protecting people’s lives.

“We stand firmly behind them in their efforts.

But he stressed there was no guarantee of success in developing a vaccine, and conceded it could take a long time to find one.

Sharma also noted other countries are in the midst of their own searches for a Covid-19 vaccination.

Scottish secretary Alister Jack said: “The University of Edinburgh will play a vital role in the fight against Covid-19, enabling us to track the spread of the virus in almost real time.

“This work is part of a UK-wide vaccine taskforce which is receiving £25m funding from the UK Government.  

“Scotland has world-leading universities and I am pleased they are able to use their expertise to help us understand more about this deadly virus.”

Another project led by the University of Oxford will trial an anti-malarial drug to determine whether it could diminish the effects of Covid-19 on people in high risk groups.

Across the UK, GP surgeries have been invited to take part in the trial to determine whether it could reduce the need for affected patients to go to hospital and speed up their recovery.

And Imperial College London, which is testing a vaccine against coronavirus that aims for the body to produce more protective antibodies, will also receive funding.

Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said: “The UK is home to world leading scientists, researchers and companies who are all at the forefront of vaccine development and manufacturing.

“The taskforce will ensure that any potential coronavirus vaccine, when available, can be produced quickly and at scale so it can be made available to the public as quickly as possible.”

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