UK immunologists join forces to search for answers on COVID-19

Today sees the launch of the new UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC), which aims to address key unanswered questions about immunity and COVID-19 to help develop better diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

The Liverpool Outbreak Laboratories will support this major collaboration of 17 UK institutions, who are combining their research expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The consortium has received £6.5million of funding over 12 months from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the largest immunology grant awarded to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

The consortium will investigate key questions including:

  • How long does immunity from COVID-19 last?
  • Why are some people’s immune systems better able to fight off the virus?
  • Why do some people’s immune responses cause damage, especially to the lungs?
  • How does the virus ‘hide from’ the immune system and how can this be tackled?
  • Does immunity to previous infection with seasonal coronaviruses (which cause the common cold) alter a person’s outcome with SARS-CoV-2?

The project, will use samples and data from major UK COVID-19 projects already underway including ISARIC-4C (characterizing and following more than 75,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19) and the genomic studies COG-UK (sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes) and GenOMICC (sequencing the genomes of people with COVID-19).

UK-CIC is supported by the British Society for Immunology and the Liverpool work is being led by Professor Calum Semple alongside Dr Lance Turtle.

Dr Lance Turtle, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Liverpool, said: “In Liverpool we have expertise in T-cell responses to emerging viruses and we are leading the clinical recruitment nationally of a subset of patients who were hospitalised with severe COVID-19 during the first wave in the UK.

“In collaboration with other UK-CIC members, we will track the immune responses of these patients over time. We will also survey patients for repeat infections, looking to answer the question of whether people who have had severe disease can get the infection again and how their immune response may protect them against this.”

The consortium is led nationally by Professor Paul Moss at the University of Birmingham, who added: “Understanding the complexities of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is key to successfully developing new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against COVID-19. The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium will see the UK immunology community come together in an unprecedented way to answer questions that are crucial in helping us control this pandemic, such as how effective immunity is developed and why individuals respond differently to the disease.”

Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR Professor Chris Whitty said: “Understanding how our immune systems respond to COVID-19 is key to solving some of the important questions about this new disease, including whether those who have had the disease develop immunity and how long this lasts, and why some are more severely affected. This investment by the NIHR and UKRI will help immunology experts to discover how our immune systems respond to SARS-CoV-2, including our T cell response. This is vital information to help prevent and treat the disease.”

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