Researchers to track coronavirus spread in ‘near real-time’

Academics from Edinburgh University are among those to receive funding to form part of the government’s ‘vaccine taskforce’

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Researchers at the University of Edinburgh undertaking a project to that aims to track the spread of Covid-19 in “near real-time” are among those to form part of the UK government’s “vaccine taskforce”.

The scheme, which uses electronic health records including GP and hospital test results, has received backing of £500,000.

It is one of 27 research projects across the UK to receive some of the £14m funding recently announced by business secretary Alok Sharma.

The taskforce will work to develop and produce a coronavirus vaccine and will be led by the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and deputy chief medical officer professor Jonathan van Tam.

Projects in receipt of funding will look at areas such as reviewing regulations, increasing manufacturing capacity and supporting international research projects. 

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Health secretary Matt Hancock said that the taskforce will be “working flat out with businesses, researchers and industry to find a vaccine as quickly as possible”.

The funding is the latest part of a £25m pot for “research response” announced in February.

The Edinburgh University project, headed by Professor Aziz Sheikh, will monitor the spread of COVID-19 using the anonymised electronic records of 1.2 million people in Scotland. It will also process blood samples and swabs from some people to help sequence the virus genomes.

If a vaccine or an anti-viral therapy is developed, then it is hoped that the project can monitor their effectiveness as they are introduced.

Another project, run by the University of Oxford, will trial an anti-malarial drug believed to have anti-inflammatory properties which could diminish the effects of Covid-19 on people in high risk groups.

Imperial College London and Public Health England are two others in receipt of funding from the taskforce scheme.

The funding is being managed by UK Research and Innovation and the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research.

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 £25 million 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.”

Sharma 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. The Vaccine Taskforce is key to coordinating efforts to rapidly accelerate the development and manufacture of a potential new vaccine, so we can make sure it is widely available to patients as soon as possible.”


Sam Trendall

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