£4 million data project to accelerate COVID-19 research

COVID-19 virus

A new multi-million pound research project will help scientists across the UK to access the data they need more easily to help develop potential therapies and treatment for COVID-19.

Experts from the universities of Nottingham, Dundee and Edinburgh, along with Public Health England, will build the infrastructure for CO-CONNECT (COVID – Curated and Open aNalysis aNd rEsearCh platform). This £4 million, UK-wide initiative will support research into the COVID-19 antibody response by connecting COVID-19 data derived from patient blood samples.

The project has been funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), through the UKRI-NIHR COVID-19 rapid response rolling call.

Answering fundamental questions

The aim of CO-CONNECT is to build the data infrastructure to ensure researchers have the necessary information to answer fundamental questions around how immunity may help prevent future spread of the virus spreads in schools and workplaces, how best to treat it in hospitals, and generally how long immunity lasts.

The current pandemic has caused over a million deaths globally, severely strained health systems and damaged economies across the world. There is currently limited evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection and if so, how long that lasts.

Understanding who is immune, and to what level, is vital to protect vulnerable individuals, to safely scale back population-based interventions and for managing disease transmission.

CO-CONNECT will support access to information from 44 sources, standardising antibody data collection from across the UK and building a secure and trustworthy federated platform for researches to access.

The data could potentially transform COVID-19 research, providing experts with key information about patient immunity to the virus and treatment outcomes that could ease development of treatments and therapies.

The CO-CONNECT project is an exemplary demonstration of the cross-sector work being co-ordinated by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), the UK’s national institute for health data science. Once available, data from CO-CONNECT will be directly integrated into HDR UK’s Innovation Gateway and available to the UK research community, thus allowing it to be used more widely to support further research projects; and generate more insights that will improve healthcare.

The Medical Research Council (MRC), part of UKRI, was a founding funder of HDR UK, which continues to be supported by UKRI.

Ensuring data can help save lives

Philip Quinlan, Head of Digital Research Service at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Director in HDR UK, said:

We are really excited to be bringing together the best of the UK’s data assets into an accessible format. It will ensure leading researchers have access to the latest data and at the scale required to give definitive answers to some of the most significant questions that require an answer.

We are really thankful to all the leading organisations that have come together to make this possible in the spirit of collaboration under the vision of ensuring data can help save lives.

David Seymour, Alliance Executive Director, HDR UK, said:

A fundamental aim of CO-CONNECT is to address the challenge of linkage of high-value data assets with other data sources, in order to provide new scientific insights. This is at the heart of our work at HDR UK and our role in the vital response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Aziz Sheikh, Director of BREATHE and of the Usher Institute, The University of Edinburgh, said:

Large datasets are transforming healthcare research and initiatives like CO-CONNECT will be key to accelerating research into COVID-19 antibodies.

This UK-wide initiative brings together data custodians and experts with a wealth of experience in health data management who will collaborate to develop new insights into COVID-19 and speed up the search for treatments that are so badly needed.

Professor Emily Jefferson, Professor of Health Data Science at the University of Dundee, said:

We are delighted to be working with leading experts at Nottingham and Edinburgh on the CO-CONNECT platform. This is a fantastic project, which will deliver new capabilities across the country to help us in our fight against COVID-19.

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