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Responding to a pandemic: UK universities’ research into COVID-19

15.12.21

Since the beginning of the pandemic, UK universities have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, conducting essential research that has helped the UK lead the global scientific response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Medical Schools Council (MSC) has today published a new report which showcases the variety of work that is being undertaken at universities across the country. As the pandemic brings new challenges, it is more important than ever that clinical research is embedded into our healthcare system. 

Despite its small size, the UK has always punched above its weight as a research nation. This meant that when COVID-19 first hit, the UK had the infrastructure and, importantly, the workforce to conduct vital medical research needed to understand and treat the novel virus. This research often takes place in partnership with universities who work with the NHS and industry to drive advances in patient care.

The impact of UK university research in the fight against COVID-19 has been vast. Examples include the development of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which continues to save countless lives across the globe, the world’s largest clinical trial into COVID-19 treatments, mass testing schemes and innovations in medical technologies. Universities are also exploring the wider implications of COVID-19 such as the impact on mental health, how it affects vulnerable communities and the effects of long Covid.

The MSC report, Responding to a pandemic: UK universities’ response to COVID-19, has collated case studies from across the country to highlight the range and impact of university-led studies. This is not an exhaustive list but instead a small sample of the considerable work that is taking place. The report is organised into five themes:

  • Characterising a novel virus
  • Driving improvements in treatment and patient care
  • Informing the evolving policy response
  • Supporting education and training
  • Understanding the wider impact of COVID-19

Th success of the UK’s scientific response to COVID-19 has been facilitated by substantial investment through various funding bodies and important collaborations with industry. Many of the case studies in this publication have received funding though organisations such as the Medical Research Council, National Institute of Health Research, Wellcome Trust and other research charities. However this success should not be taken for granted, as evidenced by the changing nature of the pandemic. It will be important to maintain this progress and drive improvements in patient outcomes, not just during this current pandemic, but by bolstering the research workforce, environment and infrastructure through flexible and long-term investment.

Professor Malcolm Reed, Co-Chair of the Medical Schools Council said

“COVID-19 has brought unprecedented challenges but this report showcases some of the fantastic and vital work that help us develop effective approaches to prevent and treat this disease. Importantly, the pandemic has shown what can be achieved through collaboration and clear purpose and we must ensure we maintain a vibrant and sustainable research base through collaboration between universities and the NHS. 

“In England, the Health and Care Bill provides an opportunity to embed research within the remit of the new Integrated Care Systems. The last two years have evidenced just how valuable and important clinical research is to the NHS and we must not waste the opportunity to ensure that the health service is able to deliver cutting edge-research and innovation that drives improvements in patient care. This is not an England-only issue and all four nations must make this commitment to safeguard the health of the nation.  

“We are indebted to all those researchers who have worked tirelessly to tackle this pandemic and we must work together to ensure they can continue to work in an environment where science and innovation can flourish.”

Professor John Atherton, Co-Chair of the Medical Schools Council said

“It is heartening to see the variety of work that is being conducted across the UK and I note that this is only a small cross-section of the considerable research underway. Research into COVID-19 remains an essential task to help the world recover from the pandemic, however COVID-19 has severely disrupted the ability to continue important ongoing research into other health conditions.

“It will be important that as we restart non-covid research, clear support and guidance which recognises the current extreme pressures facing the NHS is available to aid this recovery. This includes allowing time and support for clinical academics in training, who are a vital part of the research workforce, by ensuring that they are able to continue with their career progression.

“The pandemic has been a difficult time for so many people but medical research has provided a roadmap to its end. This goal may seem far away but when it is finally achieved we must remember the role of research in meeting the momentous challenges we faced.”

Read the report: Responding to a pandemic: UK Universities’ research into COVID-19

-Ends-

Notes to editors:

  1. The Medical Schools Council is the representative body for UK medical schools. The council is composed of the heads of UK medical schools and meets in order to shape the future of medical education in the UK. For more information on the Medical Schools Council, visit medschools.ac.uk.
  2. For more information on this press release, please contact Fahmida Yasmin, Senior Communications Officer, on 02074195430 or email press@medschools.ac.uk
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