UKRI and COVID-19 National Core Studies

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is instrumental in the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have invested millions of pounds in COVID-19 research and innovation (R&I) at home and around the world.

UKRI has funded three National Core Studies to address near-term policy and operational questions to support the government’s response to COVID-19.

Background to the National Core Studies

In the summer of 2020, the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and the Chief Medical Officer, together with experts and funders, including UKRI, identified several key areas where there was a clear requirement for the UK to increase research scale or provide infrastructure.

To address this requirement, the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) worked with a range of government departments to establish the National Core Studies.

The National Core Studies are:

  • Epidemiology and Surveillance – led by Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK National Statistician, ONS
  • Clinical Trials Infrastructure – led by Professor Patrick Chinnery, Clinical Director, MRC and Dr Divya Chadha Manek, Head of Business Development, Vaccines Task Force
  • Transmission and Environment – led by Professor Andrew Curran, Chief Scientific Adviser, Health & Safety Executive
  • Immunity – led by Professor Paul Moss, University of Birmingham
  • Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing – led by Professor Nishi Chaturvedi, University College London
  • Data and Connectivity – led by Professor Andrew Morris, Director, Health Data Research UK.

An oversight committee of experts was assembled in July 2020 to select study leads and work with them to:

  • identify the pressing questions in the rapidly changing pandemic
  • survey the research landscape
  • identify essential gaps and what would be required to fill them.

An international panel was also assembled to draw in global expertise, including from the US, India and the University of Hong Kong. This panel provided advice and challenges from different perspectives.

Selection of leads was based on their unique position, expertise, or acknowledged leadership in the field, and/or links to existing work of relevance.

Leads were encouraged to work across disciplines and share resources to ensure maximum impact of investment.

Leads were not responsible for delivering all of the research themselves, but rather for facilitating the work of others across the NHS, universities, and government.

UKRI leads on three National Core Studies

UKRI is funding three of the National Core Studies that build on our long-term and COVID-specific investments:

  • Immunity
  • Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing
  • Data and Connectivity.

In funding these studies, study leads have justified their selection of delivery partners and established independent advisory groups to review and comment on plans.

In addition, access to data resources and analytics is being provided in line with the ‘Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable’ (FAIR) principles for scientific data management.

Open competition is being used to address study area challenges and build research capacity.

More information about each study, including aims, delivery partners, and specific funding opportunities:

Immunity: informing back-to-work policies and design of the vaccination programme

Professor Paul Moss from the University of Birmingham and Professor Doreen Cantrell from the University of Dundee are leading the Immunity National Core Study.

This study, with a UKRI investment of £11.5 million, will ensure these key questions are answered:

  • how do people’s immune systems respond to vaccines and how does this vary in people who are immune suppressed?
  • how do variants of concern effect immune control?
  • what are the features and failures of immune response that lead to re-infection or vaccine breakthrough?

Funding opportunities in the Immunity National Core Study include:

Delivery partners are:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Cardiff
  • University of Glasgow
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • British Society of Immunology
  • UK Biobank
  • Oxford Immunotec
  • Public Health England (Porton Down).

Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing (LH&W): informing the design of mitigation strategies

Professor Nishi Chaturvedi from University College London and Professor Jonathan Sterne from the University of Bristol are leading the LH&W National Core Study. It will use data from longitudinal studies and electronic health records to inform policies to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

With a £10 million UKRI investment, the study will draw together, for the first time, detailed data from highly-characterised, longitudinal population studies. This will be linked with four-nation, whole population health records, and shared.

This resource will be used to address policy relevant research questions concerning:

  • vaccine uptake, efficacy and safety
  • chronic health consequences of infection, including long COVID
  • longer‑term effects of national infection control measures on mental and physical health
  • changes to health care provision during the pandemic.

Capacity building opportunities in the LH&W National Core Study include:

Delivery partners are:

  • University of Bristol
  • University of Bradford
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Essex
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Leicester
  • University College London
  • King’s College London
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Swansea.

Data and Connectivity (D&C): making UK-wide data available to catalyse COVID-19 research

This study is being led by Dr Andrew Morris, director of Health Data Research UK (HDR UK).

A UKRI £15 million investment will enable the D&C National Core Study to enable critical research by:

  • building capability in data engineering skills
  • providing advanced and secure compute environments and analytics environments
  • ensuring that prioritised health, biomedical and cross-sectoral COVID-19 related datasets are linked, discoverable, and accessible.

Delivery partners are:

  • Health Data Research UK
  • ONS Secure Research Service
  • OpenSAFELY
  • the national ‘health-based’ trusted research environments:
    • NHS Digital (England)
    • SAIL Databank with University of Swansea (Wales)
    • Public Health Scotland with EPCC University of Edinburgh (Scotland)
    • HSC Honest Broker Service (Northern Ireland).

Last updated: 23 June 2021

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