Covid-19: research and projects we've funded
From the development of treatments and vaccines, to support for low- and middle-income countries, we’re funding a range of Covid-19 research. Our aim is to accelerate the development and uptake of Covid-19 interventions, to protect those most at risk.
We support this research through collaborative initiatives, a funding call, and our connections with networks of researchers.
Wellcome launched the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, together with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Mastercard, to research and develop effective Covid-19 treatments, and help bring them to market quickly and accessibly. Read about the grants awarded through this initiative.
The Therapeutics Accelerator is a key part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is working to deliver 245 million courses of treatment in low- and middle-income countries by mid-2021.
Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, University of Oxford
Assessing the effects of routine medications on Covid-19 is urgent for two reasons:
- Some medications have been implicated in causing severe disease. As a result, patients and clinicians are unclear about whether they should be continued.
- It has been suggested that some routine medications may treat or ameliorate infection.
In both cases, the evidence of underlying effects is limited. Detailed knowledge of how different comorbidities affect outcomes once patients are admitted to an intensive care unit is critical to ensure optimum intensive care practices during the course of the pandemic.
This project will undertake large-scale data linkage between critical and primary care for patients with severe Covid-19 disease, to allow rapid assessment of the effects of routine medications, and understand the detailed effects of comorbidities on outcomes.
The Covid-19 Oxygen Emergency (O2) Taskforce is coordinating access to emergency oxygen for Covid-19 patients in low- and middle-income countries. Oxygen is vital for the effective treatment of hospitalised Covid-19 patients, but access in these countries is limited due to cost, infrastructure and logistical barriers. The O2 Taskforce has estimated a $1.6 billion need from March 2021 to March 2022.
Wellcome and Unitaid have allocated an initial $20 million as a joint investment. The funds committed to the O2 Taskforce by Unitaid, Wellcome and other funders will support countries to access oxygen and to unlock available resources to build more sustainable, resilient oxygen systems. Activities may include technical assistance for implementation of oxygen services, investment for market interventions, additional country assessments and development of funding proposals.
Wellcome is supporting global vaccine research and development through CEPI. CEPI is currently funding the development of nine Covid-19 vaccines. Several are already in phase 3 clinical trials.
Professor Ruth Faden, Pregnancy Research Ethics for Vaccines, Epidemics and New Technologies
COVER will concentrate on the ethics of Covid-19 vaccine research and development, including phase 3 trial design and equitable inclusion of special populations in the research agenda. The project will have a particular focus on pregnant women, as well as population groups that have or are likely to experience disproportionate burden from Covid-19.
The project will also involve conducting analytical work on the ethical challenges and trade-offs in the allocation and deployment of vaccines, both globally and within nations. This work will lay the groundwork for normative guidance and mathematical models to best inform policymaking once vaccines become available for wider use.
Prof Helen McShane, University of Oxford
Understanding the nature, effectiveness and durability of the human immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is crucial for vaccine development and effective public health management. We are beginning to understand the pattern and kinetics of the humoral response to natural infection, but are less certain about other aspects of the response. We are unable to establish with certainty whether an individual with a given level of antibodies, or a particular T cell response, is likely to be protected from reinfection and, if so, for how long.
These are central questions for the development of an effective vaccine. A controlled human infection model will provide a more detailed understanding of the protective immune response.
Dr Damiano de Felice, Access to Medicine Foundation
Equitable access is critical for maximising the impact of innovation, and heavily depends on proactive actions by pharmaceutical companies, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. To end the pandemic, achieve universal health coverage and protect the progress made on UN Sustainable Development Goal 3, the pharmaceutical industry will need to make sure that all scientific advancements benefit the maximum number of people, independent of the place they live or their ability to pay.
The Access to Medicine Foundation will support Wellcome’s approach to equitable access to healthcare interventions through a combination of research and policy initiatives that will:
- incentivise pharmaceutical companies to act on Covid-19
- support global efforts to prioritise access principles during product development
- untap the potential of generic medicine manufacturers in expanding access to innovations in low- and middle-income countries.
Support for low- and middle-income countries
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Wellcome have awarded more than £12 million in research funding to help low- and middle-income countries prepare for and rapidly respond to the pandemic, through our Covid-19 funding call (which is now closed).
Read about the grants we've funded through the call.
Professor Stephen Gordon, Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust
Wellcome has awarded additional funding to Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust, to help cover costs essential to clinical research and other aspects of their epidemic response in Malawi. This includes the construction of an oxygen concentration plant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, the purchase and deployment of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, and additional support to healthcare workers on the front line.
Professor Peter Olupot-Olupot, Mbale Clinical Research Institute
Wellcome has awarded additional funding to the Mbale Clinical Research Institute (a clinical research site in Uganda, collaborating with the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme), to help cover costs essential to clinical research and other aspects of their epidemic response in Uganda. This includes the purchase and deployment of PPE for healthcare workers, the disinfection of clinical research and healthcare sites, and improved screening of Covid-19 patients.
Professor Thomas Kariuki, African Academy of Sciences
Through collaboration with representatives of countries across the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) has produced a Research Blueprint and Roadmap for Covid-19, to help make sure that those affected are promptly diagnosed and receive optimal care, while integrating innovations into the response.
This project will help to adapt these for use in African settings. As part of this work, African stakeholders were consulted on their Roadmap priorities, and the analysis was used to develop a funding scheme for African researchers to strengthen research capacity and networks for Covid-19.
The funding for this call is provided by Wellcome, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
Dr Tim Baker, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Essential Emergency and Critical Care (EECC) is the basic, low-cost care required by critically ill patients, such as oxygen and iv-fluids, and the system-wide requirements for their provision. This project will assess the cost-effectiveness of EECC and advanced critical care in Tanzania and Kenya during the pandemic, and analyse the impact of global and national response strategies to Covid-19 on critical care services.
The aim is to guide global and national Covid-19 responses in low- and middle-income countries towards scalable strategies with the greatest potential for increased survival of critically ill patients, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Dr Marta Tufet, UK Collaborative on Development Research
COVID CIRCLE is a partnership between the UK Collaborative on Development Research (UKCDR) and the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R). It is funded by Wellcome and other members of UKCDR.
The partnership is supporting current UKCDR and GloPID-R activities, including the release of funder principles for supporting high-quality research for the most pressing global needs in epidemics and pandemics, and the continual mapping and analysis of global Covid-19 funding through the open access Covid-19 Research Project Tracker.
COVID CIRCLE is also coordinating funding efforts, connecting networks of researchers, and collating learnings to inform future epidemic and pandemic responses, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries.
Dr Neema Kaseje, Surgical Systems Research Group
This project will deploy community health workers, equipped with mobile technology and accompanied by young people, to visit households door to door to screen for symptoms and to isolate, test and manage suspected Covid-19 cases.
The community health workers and young people will educate households about preventive measures, including frequent handwashing and home management of mild cases. They will also work with nurses, doctors and clinical officers to test and treat more severe cases of Covid-19 in health facilities.
The goals are to visit every household in Siaya county – covering a population of nearly 1 million – and to train and support health workers working in the 32 health facilities in Siaya.
Prof Amelia Crampin, University of Glasgow
Blood testing for SARS-CoV-2 in Malawi is important for understanding how many people have been exposed and informing the long-term strategy in managing Covid-19 in highly vulnerable African populations.
Using the longitudinal urban and rural cohorts established by the Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit, and supported by international and national expertise, we will undertake population immuno-epidemiological surveillance to understand the trends in exposure and transmission of SARS-CoV-2, and the risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe disease.
We will examine the proportion of asymptomatic or very mild infection cases in the population to enable an accurate estimate of infection fatality rate. Individuals with evidence of past SARS-CoV-2 infection will be recruited and sampled every 3 months to explore the magnitude and duration of antibody response and protective immunity in the Malawian population, and create a biorepository for further in-depth virological and immunological studies.
Dr Maxine Caws, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Birat Nepal Medical Trust
Nepal, like much of Asia, has high levels of labour migration, particularly to neighbouring India and the Middle East. The pandemic has caused a mass return migration event. While the government has attempted to quarantine and test returning migrants, the fragile infrastructure has been rapidly overwhelmed and repeated migration waves have occurred into remote rural areas. There is limited understanding of the pattern and extent of transmission in this context due to limited and sporadic testing.
This study aims to contribute to:
- understanding of how return migration is influencing the epidemic dynamics in rural versus urban contexts, and the patterns of repeated introduction, seeding and transmission
- understanding of how the reported data from the core government testing system compares to estimated community prevalence, to predict testing capacity gaps and refine future response determining sensitivity and specificity of using swabs or saliva for PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Prof Philip Bejon, University of Oxford for Wellcome African AAPs and CIDRI-Africa
The aims of this project are to:
- provide consistent technical support to national testing programmes for SARS-CoV-2 in three countries
- support epidemiological research, clinical trials, immunological studies and pathogen genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2
- consolidate and maintain positive relationships with national policy makers.
The Wellcome Africa and Asia Programmes (AAPs) and CIDRI-Africa have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by making resources and staff available for SARS-CoV-2 testing, accounting for significant proportions of the local and national testing capacities, especially during surges. This has been crucial in informing government policy and public health measures, and research into SARS-CoV-2.
Working with people who have lived experience of health challenges improves research, understanding and treatment. Through this project, we want to uncover recommendations for what should be researched to make sure that people living with long Covid-19 can maintain their quality of life.
This work has three primary objectives:
- understand what frontline healthcare professionals, people affected by long Covid-19 and their carers think the research priorities should be
- present findings as a research agenda that can be shared with major global funders to influence what they choose to fund
- understand holistically how these prioritise differ in three African countries, and where there are shared priorities.
Professor Tim Walsh, University of Oxford
To slow drug resistance, many healthcare systems have protocols for diagnosis, antibiotic stewardship, and infection prevention and control practices. During this pandemic, there have been reports that stretched healthcare systems struggled to adhere to these practices, which has led to concerns that the pandemic may be fuelling antibiotic resistance.
To find out, this project is running a large-scale cohort study across hospitals in 11 countries. The study will use clinical patient-based data from a global network of hospitals, including countries significantly hit by coronavirus such as Italy, the UK, Iran, South Korea, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Brazil.
By combining data sets from hospital and patient records, the study will seek to answer if there have been changes in adherence to diagnostic stewardship protocols, antibiotic usage, and infection control practices during the pandemic, and if there has been any major change in resistance as a result. With this evidence base, we will be better prepared to respond to these changes and design appropriate interventions.
Dr Daisy Fancourt, University College London
This project is to establish an international mental health research network for Covid-19, and run a UK mixed-methods mental health study.
The proposed network will have three core aims:
- Support the establishment of high-quality longitudinal studies in countries exploring the effects of Covid-19 on mental health.
- Enable international collaboration in longitudinal data analysis to understand cross-cultural differences in the mental health effects of Covid-19.
- Catalogue and disseminate other quantitative and qualitative mental health research on Covid-19.
The work will involve leading a large-scale UK concurrent mixed methods study, comprising a longitudinal study and a qualitative interview study to provide high quality, rigorous scientific data on the mental health impact of Covid-19 in the UK.
Dr Johanna McEntyre, European Bioinformatics Institute
This project aims to make the full text of Covid-19 preprints from a range of research disciplines available on Europe PMC – for reading and reuse via a standard XML format, alongside peer-reviewed full text articles.
Being able to easily search and read full text preprints, on a site already frequented by millions of users a month, means that they will be significantly more discoverable, more integrated into the typical ecosystem of publications – for example, linking to related data – and more open to scrutiny. This will accelerate scientific research on Covid-19, provide an opportunity to build new open and rapid publication systems, and form a body of data for future research on the history of science.
Dr Daniela Saderi, Code for Science & Society
The pandemic has led to an unprecedented uptake of preprints, with researchers from all over the globe collaborating and sharing information at record speeds. The Wellcome-funded open source platform Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview, launched in January 2020, provides rapid feedback and help to filter the high number of Covid-19 preprints for quality and potential impact.
In only a few months, the platform has reached 500 users, 80 rapid reviews, and more than 230 requests for reviews, the majority of which are for Covid-19-related preprints. These numbers grow every day, and so do opportunities for collaborations with third-party sites and efforts that can increase the discoverability of the content and accessibility to the tool.
Dr Andy South, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
This project is developing software building blocks to facilitate the use of operational health data in African countries to aid the Covid-19 response, and to encourage further collection of crucial health data. The main gaps we want to address are the use and re-use of health data in the immediate operational response to Covid-19. The project will run under the umbrella of afrimapr, an existing Wellcome Open Research Fund project improving the use of health research data.
There are three parts to this approach:
- to develop open-source R components to assist African data scientists in creating tools to address local issues
- to develop training resources
- to promote the training resources and R components within African data communities.
The project will enable working with new collaborators, and reaching out to African data communities through our networks and social media.
Prof Philippe Guerin, University of Oxford
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that access to data is an important tool for accelerating evidence, product development and scientific innovation to tackle infectious diseases.
Enhanced technology, infrastructure and systems for data platforms will increase Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability and Reuse (FAIR) so that science can advance in a rapid, robust and innovative way, saving lives in the affected communities.
This project brings together the vast experience of the Infectious Disease Data Observatory (IDDO), Vivli, and other stakeholders to deliver broad, effective, and sustainable data platforms for infectious diseases. In this project, IDDO will:
- enhance its platform for improved findability, discovery and persistence which ensures that data is available in the long-term
- optimise and accelerate its data curation capacity
- streamline and accelerate its data access workflow
- develop a business plan to secure the sustainability and success of the platform.
Dr Rebecca Li, Vivli
Data repositories, such as the Infectious Disease Data Observatory (IDDO) and Vivli, have played a significant role in making research data available for secondary use. However, access to data needs to be further enhanced for accelerated innovations on infectious diseases by addressing the friction in data contribution, discoverability, access and reuse.
With this project we want to improve discoverability and accessibility of data related to Covid-19, and to become an effective node in the FAIR Data Network.
The project will focus on the following objectives:
- recognition and credit for data contributions
- accelerated data access workflow
- discoverability of IDDO studies via the Vivli platform
- discoverability of IPD hosted by Vivli and its platform partners (including IDDO) based on rich metadata.
Culture and society
Helen Goulden, The Young Foundation
This research will explore how:
- Covid-19 is shaping interactions between individuals in society and the impact it is having on health, wellbeing, resilience, quality of life and community
- digital is playing a role in community responses to the virus
- different measures to mitigate the virus changes the experience of community in a time of crisis
- individuals and communities relate to science and research, particularly with respect to Covid-19.
The objective is to collect real-time information to inform policy makers and practitioners on how communities are responding to the pandemic, public health measures and other mitigation measures. It will also generate early insight into the potential longer-term impacts on individuals’ mental health and community wellbeing.
The project will involve a quantitative study with a nationally representative sample across the four UK nations. This will be supplemented by innovative digital ethnographic research which generates in-depth real time insight into the experiences of a diverse group of 100 adults.
Dr Bella Starling, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust
Planet Divoc-91 is an offbeat sci-fi satire set in the far reaches of outer space. It follows the adventures of two earthlings: Sanda Oung, a 23-year-old from the UK, and Champo Oung, Sanda’s 19-year-old, non-binary sibling. As well as being an opportunity for young people to respond to science and research, the project aims to influence future decision making and policy.
Each chapter features the work of a different creative team and cover artist, and is interspersed with short articles, links to videos, and other pieces of art by young adults about issues related to Covid-19.
The project is a huge collaborative effort, involving scientists and researchers with a range of expertise, including infectious disease, behavioural science, health economy and health inequalities.
Dr Claire Wardle, First Draft
This project will ensure as many people as possible have access to straightforward, clear information that quickly responds to the questions and confusion people have about coronavirus.
In order to reach millions of people around the world, the project will create high quality, embeddable content that newsrooms, platforms, health authorities and government bodies can share with their audiences. It will also galvanise engaged citizens who want to help by creating an 'army' of information volunteers who can push the content out to their own networks.
By sharing efforts to monitor trending misinformation, collecting real-time questions and areas of confusion from the public, and centralising the output of shareable 'cards' that respond to these rumours and questions, it will help over-stretched newsrooms and communication departments, and provide concerned citizens with a role to play at a time when they want to help their communities.
Lorraine Hansford, University of Exeter
This project will analyse the ways in which community organisations have evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic, and identify implications for future practice, including service delivery models, change processes and evaluation methods.
CoLab is a cross-sector wellbeing hub. It hosts 30 organisations from the community, social enterprise and public sectors supporting people with complex needs (for example homelessness and mental health). The project will involve working with staff and users as co-researchers, drawing on research tools from different methodological approaches (such as participatory action research, ethnography and developmental evaluation) to explore their experiences of using, delivering and adapting services in a rapidly changing context.
Key goals include producing recommendations for service development, identifying appropriate research methods to sustain an 'action research' culture moving forward, and sharing learning more widely within the sector and related academic fields.
Dr Penny Fidler, UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres
The aim of this work is to support UK science centres during the pandemic by:
- developing and delivering a national resilience programme accessible to all centres, ensuring it is adaptable and remains relevant
- selecting 15 centres to grant-fund as part of a digital resilience programme to engage, inspire and involve under-represented children, families and communities with STEM, and to raise the profile of the centres over the coming year.
Lorraine Hansford, University of Exeter
During the coronavirus crisis, charities and public sector organisations supporting people with complex needs (such as homelessness, mental ill-health and addiction) have rapidly responded by adapting their services. Many of the most effective forms of support have come from community-based organisations. Now is a good time to re-evaluate how services are provided, and to understand and learn from what has worked.
CoLab is a wellbeing hub hosting 30 organisations from the community and public sectors. This project will support a researcher to work alongside staff and service users to analyse the ways in which organisations have adapted, and explore implications for future practice.
Dr Carolyn Deere Birkbeck, Global Policy Reporting
Reliable, evidence-based media remains an important way of advancing public health literacy and bringing news, views and opinions from diverse regions of the world into the corridors of power. Health Policy Watch (HPW), launched in 2019 as an open-access, non-profit health news service, wants to create a new network paradigm that connects the dots between policy trends and realities in the global North and South.
The main objective of HPW’s work is to foster a more balanced and solutions-oriented approach to health policy dialogue around issues and choices that are critical to an effective response in the Covid-19 pandemic, and to the broader global health agenda. HPW are committed to ensuring that all potential readers can access their content free of charge.