Scientific taskforce receives £14m boost to find coronavirus vaccine

A new £14 million ‘Vaccine Taskforce’ to find a coronavirus vaccine as quickly as possible has been announced.

By Tim Cunningham
Friday, 17th April 2020, 5:20 pm
Updated Friday, 17th April 2020, 6:06 pm

21 new research projects combating coronavirus will receive government funding, including University of Oxford trials of an anti-malarial drug believed to have anti-inflammatory properties that could diminish the effects of COVID-19 in high risk groups.

GP surgeries across the UK have been invited to take part in this ground-breaking trial, to ascertain whether it could reduce the need for affected patients to go to hospital and speed up their recovery.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced today that the taskforce, led by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan van Tam, will provide industry and research institutions with the resources and support needed.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (L) with Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R) who will head up the Vaccine Taskforce. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

This includes reviewing regulations and scaling up manufacturing, so that when a vaccine becomes available, it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.

Members include Government Life Sciences Champion Sir John Bell, as well as the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, the Bioindustry Association, and research charity, the Wellcome Trust.

The government says the taskforce will mobilise funding and identify ways to fast-track clinical trials, by working with companies already at the forefront of vaccine development.

Government regulations will be reviewed to facilitate rapid and safe vaccine trials while plans for the procurement and delivery of vaccines are made.

Mr 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.”

The UK has already pledged £250 million from the government aid budget, the biggest donation by any country, to the international programme to develop a coronavirus vaccine under the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Other projects receiving government funding from this new pot include:

Imperial College London testing a vaccine against coronavirus that aims for the body to produce more protective antibodies;

Public Health England developing a new antibody that could offer protection against infection and disease progression of coronavirus;

Public Health England studying how COVID-19 can be transmitted from person-to-person by determining how long it can survive in the air and on different materials found in hospitals and households like fabric, plastics, metals and ceramics.

This follows an initial £10.5 million allocated to six promising coronavirus projects in March, two of which are enabling pre-clinical and clinical vaccine trials, as well as supporting researchers to develop manufacturing processes to produce a vaccine at a million-dose scale.

Additionally, funding under the international CEPI programme is helping scientists and researchers, including those in the UK, continue to lead global efforts to develop a workable coronavirus vaccine.

UK aid is working with CEPI to ensure any coronavirus vaccine, once developed, is available and affordable to the NHS.