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Current COVID-19 research

Working with partners across UK, Scotland is leading, enabling and delivering world-class COVID-19 research, a key element of the Government’s overall response to the pandemic. Scotland forms part of a single national UK process led by NIHR and draws on expert advice to prioritise the COVID-19 studies which hold the most potential for tackling the challenges faced. 

This process will cover funded studies, irrespective of whether they are funded by the public sector, industry or charities and also, in partnership with UKRI, studies that require funding. All NHS trusts/boards, health and care providers and universities will need to prioritise support for studies which have been nationally prioritised. 

With regard to HRA approvals, researchers should make an application through the national prioritisation process first and will be signposted for expedited regulatory approvals so that approval review can progress in parallel to the system of assessment leading to a view on prioritisation.  

Chief Scientist Office (CSO) Research Calls

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Scientist Office of Scottish Government has launched dedicated funding calls to increase the understanding of coronavirus (COVID-19), screen potential treatments and support clinical trials:

Rapid Research in COVID-19

One hundred and thirty-nine proposals were received from across Scotland’s universities and research institutes. Following an independent expert review process, 55 projects have been selected for funding, establishing a pan-Scotland portfolio of high-quality research on COVID-19 that will be delivered rapidly and inform policy and clinical practice in responding to the pandemic.

This portfolio includes research to: 

  • better understand the effects of infection
  • develop and test new diagnostics and treatments 
  • investigate new disease surveillance approaches
  • inform interventions to prevent transmission of infection
  • support the mental health of frontline health and social care workers
  • understand the physical and mental health implications of lockdown measures

The CSO website lists a full breakdown of the research institutions, projects and individual funding for each of the projects.

Research on Longer-Term Effects of COVID-19 Infection

A call for applied research proposals designed to improve understanding of the longer-term effects of COVID-19 infection on physical and mental health and wellbeing in Scotland, and/or research with the aim of developing effective clinical interventions to support recovery and rehabilitation from COVID-19 infection.

The funding available for individual projects is up to £300,000 at 80% full economic cost. Projects should be up to 24 months duration, although, exceptionally, longer projects will be considered if clinically/scientifically justified. CSO expects to be in a position to fund around 6 such projects through this call.


Current research

Clinical trials are currently taking place across primary care, hospital settings and ICU’s. The following Coronavirus (COVID-19) related research studies are active in Scotland:

ISARIC: Understanding behaviour and spread of COVID-19 in the UK

Part of £10.5 million funding award by NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to support six new research projects on developing and testing vaccines and therapies for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Dr Kenneth Baillie, University of Edinburgh; Professor Peter Openshaw, Imperial College London; and Professor Calum Semple, University of Liverpool - £4.9m

The team will collect samples and data from COVID-19 patients in the UK to answer many urgent questions about the virus in real-time, such as:

  • who in the population is at higher risk of severe illness
  • what is the best way to diagnose the disease
  • what is happening in their immune systems to help or harm patients
  • how drugs behave in people with the infection
  • how long people are infectious for and from which bodily fluids
  • whether people are infected with other viruses (e.g. flu) at the same time

The study will recruit at least 1,300 UK patients over the next year and aim to start communicating their initial results in months.

The team’s capacity builds on planning over the past 8 years as part of the International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium, and it includes co-investigators from six UK universities and Public Health England.

RECOVERY: Re-purposing existing and new drugs for COVID-19 patients

Part of £10.5 million funding award by NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to support six new research projects on developing and testing vaccines and therapies for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Scottish Government is also providing £3.3 million to fund governance and support funding for this trial.  

Professor Peter Horby, University of Oxford - £2.1m

The Randomised Evaluation of COVID Therapy (RECOVERY) trial will test if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19.

The first two therapies to be tested will be iopinavir-ritonavir (an HIV drug) and low-dose corticosteroids, which will be evaluated to see if they are safe and effective when added to the usual standard of care.

The trial will have an ‘adaptive’ design, meaning it can test new therapies as they become available. The team’s aim is to have data available to inform patient treatment within three months.

Read more: 

COVID BreathSpec: Identifying biomarkers in breath that characterise COVID-19

Analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath is of increasing interest in the diagnosis of lung infection. Patterns of VOC detected can offer information on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lung cancer and interstitial lung disease.

Compared with other methods of breath analysis, ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) offers a tenfold higher detection rate of VOCs. By coupling an ion mobility spectrometer with a GC column, GC-IMS offers immediate twofold separation of VOCs with visualisation in a three-dimensional chromatogram. The total analysis time is about 300 seconds and the equipment has been miniaturised to allow bedside analysis.

The primary objective of the COVID BreathSpec trial is to perform a GC-IMS metabolomic definition study in patients with clinical features consistent with pneumonia or chest infection to identify a signature of COVID-19 pneumonia in patients exposed to SARS-CoV-2, compared to unexposed patients or those without pneumonia. This would allow for the identification of biomarkers in the breath that characterises COVID-19.

GenOMICC: Finding the genes that cause susceptibility to COVID-19

Susceptibility to COVID-19 is almost certainly, in part, genetic. The GenOMICC (Genetics Of Mortality In Critical Care) study aims to find the genes that cause susceptibility, which may help us to prioritise treatments to respond to the global crisis.

Since 2016, the open, global GenOMICC collaboration has been recruit patients with emerging infections, including COVID-19. All critically-ill patients with confirmed COVID-19 are eligible for GenOMICC.

REMAP-CAP: Reducing mortality, ICU use, morbidity in patients with COVID-19

REMAP-CAP (Randomized, Embedded, Multifactorial, Adaptive Platform trial for Community-Acquired Pneumonia) is an international platform trial that has been specifically designed for a pandemic period. The aim is is to generate evidence that can be applied during the pandemic to reduce mortality, reduce intensive care use, and reduce morbidity in severely ill patients with COVID-19 infection.

The platform will test multiple treatments at the same time (antivirals, immune modulation drugs and corticosteroids) and more treatments will be added as new evidence emerges. If a treatment is beneficial, more patients will be treated with that drug within the trial, improving outcomes and reducing ICU stays, even before the results are declared and the trial ends. It provides a type of self-learning healthcare system, which is important in this fast-moving pandemic.

The trial is funded by the European Commission and is led in the UK by Professor Anthony Gordon, Imperial College London.

FLU-CATs: Refining the criteria and tools in primary care to aid hospital referral decisions

FLU-CATs : Evaluation and refinement of pandemic influenza community assessment tools is designed to assess, refine and validate of triage tools to guide GP referral of patients with influenza-like illness during a pandemic in readiness for use should widespread illness exceed health care capacity (surge).

GPs participating in the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) will record their assessment and management of patients with influenza-like illness. The study will explore linking CPRD to the supra-regional microbiology network database to provide linked-anonymised results on microbiological investigations for respiratory pathogens.

Weekly cumulative analyses are planned using CPRD data. Three monthly analyses are planned using linked HES data as a gold standard. Univariate and multivariate analyses using unconditional logistic regression will be used to investigate the association between:

  • triage criteria threshold values and primary outcomes (hospital admission, and death)
  • secondary outcomes (length of stay and augmented levels of care (high dependency / intensive care))

The trial is led by Prof Malcolm Semple, University of Liverpool and funded by the NIHR.

STOP-COVID19: Exploring treatment for lung inflammation in COVID-19 patients

The STOP-COVID19 (Superiority Trial of Protease inhibition in COVID-19) trial will explore whether the drug brensocatib (formerly known as INS1007) can reduce the incidence of acute lung injury and prevent mechanical ventilation. It is hoped that the treatment will also lead to patients spending fewer days dependent on oxygen and shorter periods of time in hospital, reducing the burden on healthcare systems.

Trials conducted to date have shown that brensocatib reduces inflammation in the lungs of people with underlying lung conditions and it is hoped that it will have a similarly beneficial effect in those suffering from COVID-19.

The study is being led by Prof James Chalmers, British Lung Foundation Professor of Respiratory Research at the University of Dundee and Consultant Respiratory Physician at Ninewells Hospital, NHS Tayside.

Coronavirus infection in immunosuppressed children

This study is designed to allow families of immunosuppressed children and young people to self-record their experiences of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and other viral respiratory illnesses during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Parents of immunosuppressed patients and young people aged 16-17 yrs who are immunosuppressed will be provided with online information and asked to fill in online questionnaires at baseline and weekly thereafter. Information collected will include:

  • immune-system affecting medication
  • symptoms
  • contact with health care providers
  • test results
  • impact on daily activities

Data will be collected and analysed weekly to be able to monitor any potential risk factors for severe disease. This study is complementary to, and not overlapping with, the global ISARIC World Health Organisation protocol that will be studying COVID-19 cases admitted to all NHS Trusts, including all children.

The study is led by Dr Hans De Graaf, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and funded by the British Paediatric Allergy, Immunity and Infection Group.

SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity & REinfection EvaluatioN)

SIREN (Sarscov2 Immunity & REinfection EvaluatioN) is a UK-wide study testing 100,000 health workers, which will provide information on immunity from and prevalence of COVID-19 infection.

The primary objective of the study is to determine whether the presence of COVID-19 antibodies is associated with a reduction in the subsequent risk of re-infection over the next year. The data will also be used to estimate the prevalence of COVID19 infection in healthcare workers by region.

The Scottish arm of SIREN is being co-ordinated by Professor Lesley Price and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), in partnership with Public Health Scotland, NHS Research Scotland and the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) of the Scottish Government.

It aims to recruit 10,000 staff throughout Scotland, equating to roughly 1 in every 7.5 patient-facing NHS staff.

COVID-HEART study

Up to 1 in 5 patients hospitalised by COVID-19 have evidence of heart muscle injury as measured from a blood test. This is associated with a high death rate. Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan (a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the heart) the COVID-HEART study will look at how often, and in what way, the heart becomes damaged, and how the heart recovered 6 months later.

The study is sponsored by the University of Leeds and funded by UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research.

PHOSP-COVID: Post-hospitalisation COVID-19 study

The Post-hospitalisation COVID-19 study (PHOSP-COVID) is a consortium of leading researchers and clinicians from across the UK working together to understand and improve long-term health outcomes for patients who have been in hospital with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

As we emerge from the first wave of the pandemic, we have new insights into the sudden onset phase of this disease but there is very little information concerning the long-term effects of COVID-19 and what the ongoing medical, psychological and rehabilitation needs for this group of patients will be to enable them to make as full a recovery as possible.

To address this gap in our understanding, PHOSP-COVID has been set up and funded as a long term research study to recruit 10,000 patients who have been hospitalised with COVID-19. Over the course of a year, clinical assessments will track patients to gain a comprehensive picture of the impact COVID-19 has had on longer term health outcomes across the UK.

The PHOSP-COVID team will then develop trials of new strategies for clinical care, including personalised treatments for groups of patients based on the particular disease characteristics they show as a result of having COVID-19 to improve their long term health.

 

This study is supported by a grant to the University of Leicester from the MRC-UK Research and Innovation, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and by core funding provided by NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre - a partnership between the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University.

 

REALIST: An open label dose escalation phase 1 trial followed by a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial

The Repair of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) by Stromal Cell Administration (REALIST) trial will investigate if a single infusion of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) will help in the treatment of ARDS. ARDS occurs in approximately 20% case of COVID-19 and respiratory failure is the leading cause of mortality.

The first step will be to determine what dose of MSCs is safe and then divide patients suffering from ARDS into two groups, one of which will get MSCs and the other a harmless dummy (or placebo) infusion, who will then be followed up to determine if lung function improves. If effective this may lead to further research to determine if MSCs are effective in patients with ARDS.

The study is sponsored by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and funded by Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland Clinical Trials Unit and NHS Blood and Transplant.

PRINCIPLE: Platform Randomised trial of Interventions against COVID-19 in older peoPLE

The Platform Randomised trial of Interventions against COVID-19 in older peoPLE (PRINCIPLE) trial is a nationwide clinical trial from the University of Oxford to find COVID-19 treatments for the over 50s that can be taken at home.

The trial is looking for medicines that can help people with COVID-19 symptoms get better quickly and stop them needing to go to hospital. Those looking to take part can check their eligibility and sign up to the trial at https://www.principletrial.org/.

The study is sponsored by the University of Oxford and funded by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer (UK Government).

 

TACTIC-R: Multiarm therapeutic study in pre-ICU patients admitted with COVID-19

TACTIC-R is a randomised, parallel-arm, open-label platform trial for investigating a potential treatment for COVID-19 disease. The study proposes to assess the efficacy of immunomodulatory agents that target dysregulated immune response that drive the severe lung and other organ damage during COVID-19 infection. The medications investigated for efficacy in this trial are Baricitinib and Ravulizumab.

TACTIC-R will use a platform design with interim analysis to make efficient decisions about efficacy and futility (e.g. lack of efficacy and risk of harm) of the trial treatments. This enables the trial to stop recruiting to arms early where a clear efficacy decision can be made. It also allows for the addition of further arms.

The study is sponsored by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

ACCORD-2: Phase 2 study of multiple agents in COVID-19 patients

A platform to investigate the safety and effectiveness of several new medicines for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalised patients, ACCORD-2 will test several treatments, one at a time, in people with COVID-19. Some treatments act directly against the virus when it gets into the body. Other treatments help the body’s immune system (the natural defence against viral infections) to work better.

As each treatment is tested in people with COVID-19, a group of doctors and researchers will look at the results to see whether it works and how safe it is.

The study is sponsored by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and funded by BerGenBio AS.

DEFINE: Rapid experimental medicine for COVID-19

DEFINE is an overarching and adaptive trial designed to provide safety, pharmacokinetic (PK)/ pharmacodynamic (PD) information and exploratory biological surrogates of efficacy which may support further development and deployment of candidate therapies in larger-scale trials of COVID-19 positive patients receiving normal standard of care.

The trial will support the repurposing of promising therapeutic assets with prior use in humans but without prior information on use in COVID-19, to determine the PK-PD profile of the agent, compared to standard of care supportive therapy, in small cohorts of COVID-19 patients.

The study is sponsored by the University of Edinburgh and funded by the University of Oxford and Latus Therapeutics.

PAN-COVID: Pregnancy and neonatal outcomes in COVID-19

A global registry of women affected by COVID-19 in pregnancy and their babies, PAN-COVID rapidly collects and pools data on pregnant women affected by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to inform treatment and preventative strategies in this and future outbreaks.

The aim of this study is to create a global registry gathering data on the effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnancy from healthcare systems around the world. The researchers are endorsed by the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology (ISUOG) and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) who will support the study through their members and networks.

The study is sponsored by Imperial College London and funded by UK Research and Innovation.

RECOVERY Respiratory Support: Respiratory strategies in patients with COVID-19

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged at the end of 2019 as a novel coronavirus. It has been declared a global pandemic. Some people develop no symptoms, whilst others develop worsening breathing problems and may die. Throughout the world, a huge burden has been placed on intensive care units due to the number of people with worsening breathing problems that need to be placed on a ventilator (breathing machine). It is essential that ventilator use is avoided wherever possible to allow as many individuals as possible to benefit.

RECOVERY Respiratory Support: Respiratory strategies in patients with coronavirus COVID-19 will test whether two treatments are better than standard treatment at preventing people from dying or needing to go on a ventilator. In the first group, participants will be placed on a tight-fitting mask (CPAP). In the second group, participants will receive oxygen blown quickly up their nose by a machine (HFNO).

The study is sponsored by the University of Warwick and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

CLARITY: Impact of biologic therapy on SARS-CoV-2 infection and immunity in patients with inflammatory bowel disease

CLARITY: impaCt of bioLogic therApy on saRs-cov-2 Infection & immuniTY is interested in the impact of biologic therapy on SARS-CoV-2 infection and immunity in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The study will use a COVID-19 antibody test to look for past infection in blood samples from patients with IBD stored since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, the researchers will follow for 40 weeks a further 6970 UK patients treated with one of two biologic drugs, infliximab and vedolizumab. Patients will be asked to complete a questionnaire every 8 weeks and donate a blood sample at infusion visits.

The study is sponsored by Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and funded by Roche.

SPIKE-1: looking at the use of camostat to reduce the progression of symptoms of COVID-19

A Phase 2 trial looking at the use of camostat to reduce the progression of symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).

This trial is for people who are over 18 and who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are well enough to stay at home. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 at a hospital, you may also be able to take part, and any assessments may take place in your hospital setting if permitted.

The trial is supported by Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development (CDD).