£18.5m to tackle COVID-19 through research

People experiencing the longer-term effects of long COVID to benefit from research projects to help better understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment

  • Four research studies funded to better understand and address the longer-term effects of COVID on physical and mental health
  • Approximately 1 in 10 people with COVID-19 continue to experience symptoms beyond 12 weeks
  • Government funding for the projects approved in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

New funding will help to determine the causes of long COVID and the possible treatments. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

People experiencing the longer-term effects of long COVID will benefit from £18.5m to fund research projects to help better understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment of the condition.

The funding will be given to four studies to identify the causes of long COVID and effective therapies to treat people who experience chronic symptoms of the disease.

The projects were chosen following a UK-wide call to find ambitious and comprehensive research programmes to help address the physical and mental health effects of COVID-19 in those experiencing longer-term symptoms, but who do not require admittance into hospital.

Long COVID can present with clusters of symptoms that are often overlapping and/or fluctuating.

There is increasing medical evidence and patient testimony showing that a significant minority of people who contract COVID suffer chronic symptoms for months after initially falling ill, irrespective of whether they were hospitalised

A systematic review has highlighted 55 different long-term effects, but common symptoms include breathlessness, headaches, cough, fatigue and cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’. There is also emerging evidence that some people experience organ damage.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I am acutely aware of the lasting and debilitating impact long COVID can have on people of all ages, irrespective of the extent of the initial symptoms.

“Fatigue, headaches and breathlessness can affect people for months after their COVID-19 infection regardless of whether they required hospital admission initially.

“In order to effectively help these individuals we need to better understand long COVID and identify therapeutics that can help recovery and this funding will kick-start four ambitious projects to do just that.”

Amy, 27, has been experiencing ongoing breathing problems after first contracting COVID-19 three months ago.

She said: “I expected to be fully recovered within two weeks, but I actually isolated for three weeks because I just didn’t feel comfortable going out. I was still really poorly.

There is increasing medical evidence and patient testimony showing that a significant minority of people who contract COVID suffer chronic symptoms for months after initially falling ill, irrespective of whether they were hospitalised

“At my age, I didn’t expect to suffer symptoms for more than just a few days. Feeling that poorly for that long, and hearing all the horror stories and things, I wondered if I would actually go back to normal.

“I exercise a lot and it was really scary thinking that I might not actually get back to that again. It’s quite shocking to me actually that three months on I’m still not really myself.”

Commenting on the problems some patients are still reporting, chief medical officer for England, and head of the NIHR, Professor Chris Whitty, said: “Good research is absolutely pivotal in understanding, diagnosing and then treating any illness, to ease symptoms and ultimately improve lives.

“This research, jointly funded through the NIHR and UKRI, will increase our knowledge of how and why the virus causes some people to suffer long-term effects following a COVID-19 infection – and will be an important tool in developing more effective treatments for patients.”

Health Minister, Lord Bethell, adds: “The UK is at the forefront of scientific research and innovation when it comes to the treatment of COVID-19 and this work is vital in helping us to build on our knowledge and improve the treatment of the longer-term impacts of the virus.

Good research is absolutely pivotal in understanding, diagnosing and then treating any illness, to ease symptoms and ultimately improve lives

“This research will make the best use of available evidence to help us identify the causes, the consequences and, most importantly, the best treatments to help people recover from COVID-19 in the long term.”

An independent panel of research experts and patients with long COVID recommended the following four studies for funding.

REACT long COVID (REACT-LC) - £5.4m over three years: Led by Professor Paul Elliott of Imperial College London, the study will involve people in the community who have taken part in the REACT study of the virus that causes COVID-19. Data will be analysed to find common factors to examine why some people get long COVID and others do not. The biological studies will help to understand what causes persistent symptoms and may point to possible treatments.

Therapies for long COVID in non-hospitalised individuals: from symptoms, patient-reported outcomes and immunology to targeted therapies (The TLC Study) - £2.3m over two years:Led by Dr Shamil Haroon and Professor Melanie Calvert of the University of Birmingham, the study will identify which treatments are most likely to benefit people with particular symptoms of long COVID and test supportive treatments to improve their quality of life.

Characterisation, determinants, mechanisms and consequences of the long-term effects of COVID-19: providing the evidence base for health care services - £9.6m over three years: Led by Professor Nishi Chaturvedi of University College London, the study will use data from more than 60,000 people to help define long COVID and improve diagnosis. It will also explain why some people get the condition, the typical effects on a person’s health and ability to work, and the factors that affect recovery to inform the development of treatments offered to patients.

Non-hospitalised children and young people with long COVID (The CLoCk Study)- £1.4m over three years: led by Professor Sir Terence Stephenson of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, the study will teach us more about long COVID among children, how it can be diagnosed, and how to treat it.

The UK is at the forefront of scientific research and innovation when it comes to the treatment of COVID-19 and this work is vital in helping us to build on our knowledge and improve the treatment of the longer-term impacts of the virus

Professor Fiona Watt, executive chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI, said: “There is increasing medical evidence and patient testimony showing that a significant minority of people who contract COVID suffer chronic symptoms for months after initially falling ill, irrespective of whether they were hospitalised.

“These four large-scale projects will work with affected individuals to better understand and address these debilitating long-term impacts.”

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