UKRI’s health and infectious disease investments 

Small vaccine bottles being filled

The UK is home to world-class expertise and capability in global health and infectious disease.

Since the 2002 SARS outbreak, UKRI has invested £25 million in research activities related to coronaviruses, meaning that we have a strong community ready to respond to the current pandemic.

Centres of scientific expertise

The Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) make long-term investments that provide national centres of scientific expertise.

These include groups that have been able to quickly apply their relevant expertise to do research on the SARS-CoV2 and provide relevant advice for managing the COVID-19 pandemic. They are at the forefront of global medical research response.

MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis

Directed by Professor Neil Ferguson, the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis delivers timely analysis to inform policy responses to emerging infectious disease threats. The Centre was rapidly awarded an additional £500,000 to support its real-time analysis and modelling of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic and the impact of COVID-19.

MRC Centre for Virus Research

The MRC Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow represents the UK’s largest grouping of human and veterinary virologists. The Centre has contributed expertise to recent Ebola outbreaks, and is now working on SARS-CoV2 with £500,000 of supplementary funding.

Working in collaboration with the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, researchers completed the genomic sequencing and analysis of Scotland’s first confirmed COVID-19 case within 48 hours of diagnosis.

MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit

The MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit at the University of Dundee, working in partnership with the Centre for Virus Research, has identified 38 separate proteins produced by SARS-CoV-2 that produce an immune response in the body.

The Dundee team is now manufacturing these components of the virus in order to generate antibodies against them. These all-important biological tools are now available to researchers worldwide in the unit’s Coronavirus Toolkit.

MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology

The MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology is deploying its world-leading expertise in high resolution microscopy and structural biology to interrogate how the virus enters and replicates in cells.

This includes making different kinds of disabled viruses – so-called ‘pseudotyped’ viruses – that contain the spike (S) protein from SARS-CoV-2. These are used for cellular entry, but no viral genes, to allow scientists to safely study how the spike protein gets the virus into cells.

In addition, laboratory teams are studying how the immune system responds to the S protein and other viral proteins that are important for vaccine and therapeutic antibody design.

MRC units in The Gambia and Uganda

Also looking into the virus are MRC Unit The Gambia at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and MRC/UKVI (Uganda Virus Research Institute) and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. They are key to the global effort.

Find out more about their activities.

Francis Crick Institute

The Francis Crick Institute has initiated a multidisciplinary research response to the COVID-19 pandemic, deploying their researchers’ wide-ranging expertise in:

  • studying the underpinning biology of the virus
  • exploring the production of recombinant proteins from the virus as a resource for immunological studies
  • chemical inhibitor screening
  • mechanistic studies
  • identifying the most effective treatments for people with severe disease.

Pirbright Institute

The Pirbright Institute – funded by BBSRC and home to the BBSRC National Virology Centre – has a long history of research on livestock coronaviruses.

It is now working with many other health and science organisations to control and prevent COVID-19.

Last updated: 28 October 2020

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