University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation.

COVID Research Funding

Five projects from across Oxford University's Medical Sciences Division are amongst twenty-one new studies into the novel coronavirus which have been funded by the UK government.

Twenty-one new studies into the novel coronavirus have been funded by the UK government, including the first clinical drug trial in primary care, vaccine and therapy development, and studying epidemiology, disease transmission, behavioral interventions and policy approaches to COVID-19.

This second round of projects receive £14.1 million as part of the £24.6 million rapid research response funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

These projects build on the UK’s world-class expertise and capability in global heath and infectious disease that has already shaped our understanding of the pandemic and is informing measures to tackle it. They support the UK government’s efforts to save lives, protect the vulnerable and support the NHS so it can help those who need it the most.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: 'The research community’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been outstanding. In a matter of weeks, researchers have formed projects to develop potential vaccines, repurpose existing drugs and explore the potential for new medicines, and to examine how the virus is transmitted and causes wide variation in symptoms. Pre-clinical trials of vaccines and clinical trials of drugs are already underway.

'The pace at which this work has been carried out is tribute to the UK’s world-class research base and its dedication to the fight against this disease.'

The projects will run over a maximum 18-month period, ensuring timely insights into the current epidemic.

This research funding has been coordinated with other funders and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure there is not duplication of effort and expertise is applied strategically.

On 30 March, UKRI and NIHR launched a joint rolling call for researchers to apply for funding for short-term projects addressing and mitigating the health, social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Oxford's Medical Sciences Division research projects funded

Professor Christopher Butler, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, £1.7 million: The first clinical trial in COVID-19 patients consulting in primary care, ‘PRINCIPLE’, will initially test if the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine can reduce the need for people to go to hospital or speed up their recovery. They will recruit patients aged over 65 years (or aged 50-64 years with underlying health conditions), who consult in primary care (this trial is a national platform trial and is potentially available to all GP practices in the UK) and have COVID-19 symptoms. Patients will be tested for COVID-19 where possible, and will receive either the usual care provided plus hydroxychloroquine 200mg twice a day for 7 days, or, soon, azithromycin for 3-5 days, or usual supportive care without any experimental treatment. The trial aims to recruit over 3,000 people, and has been designed to be flexible, so new suitable treatments can be added into the trial when these become available.

Professor Matthew Snape, Oxford Vaccine Group, £0.6 million: With Public Health England, they will use an existing study of infectious disease immunity in children and teenagers 0 to 19 years old to study the presence of antibodies against COVID-19 (a marker of having had the disease and now having immunity) in approximately 400 children and teenagers per month for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and they will collect information on recent respiratory illnesses and relevant medical history.

Professor Trudie Lang, Nuffield Department of Medicine, £0.3 million: Building on lessons learnt in the Zika and Ebola outbreaks, the Global Health Network will deliver and share trusted research tools, guidance and training, for example providing guidance on how to run studies in local clinics and hospitals. They will work with partners internationally to create lasting research networks to support evidence generation in challenging settings, so that better quality, standardised data is shared faster worldwide.

Professor Sally Sheard, University of Liverpool, and Dr Nina Gobat, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, £0.3 million: Working with colleagues at the University of Oxford, they will analyse the UK pandemic response by collecting real-time responses from senior policymakers and stakeholders (PHE, DHSC, NHS) and the frontline experiences of healthcare workers, and by studying media and document sources. Their findings will inform senior policymakers.

Dr Sumana Sanyal, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, £0.2 million: The virus, SARS-CoV-2, uses enzymes within infected cells called proteases (enzymes which cut up other proteins), so it can replicate and spread. This study will identify which proteases are necessary for the virus, to provide targets for future drugs and vaccine development. 1)

Bogus Models for Social Distancing Propaganda

Social distancing works: Here’s the Maths 6th Apr 2020 Sarah Whitebloom

Considerable uncertainty surrounds Covid-19 - how long it will take before a vaccine is developed, the death rate amongst cases and even how many cases there have been so far. But there is one thing of which we can be sure: social distancing works, according to a mathematical modelling expert from Oxford University.

Dr Robin Thompson, a junior research fellow in mathematical epidemiology, has crunched the numbers and found social distancing can reduce pass-on rates of Covid-19 substantially. His mathematical modelling, based on measures now in place to reduce person-to-person contact, reveals a scenario in which case numbers could be reduced by almost 90%. 2)

COVID mRNA Transfections

The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine was developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. The vaccine works by delivering the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the body’s cells, similarly to the mRNA vaccines. Once inside the body, the spike protein is produced, causing the immune system to recognise it and initiate an immune response.

It is recognised that a vaccine is urgently needed to prevent people from becoming severely ill and dying from COVID-19. The aim of the UK COVID-19 vaccination programme is to protect those who are most at risk. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists around the world have come together to focus their efforts on developing vaccines to prevent people from becoming infected with the coronavirus. Over 270 vaccines are in various stages of development, and some of these utilise similar technologies to existing vaccines in use, whilst others involve newer approaches.

Although clinical trials have been completed more rapidly during the pandemic, this has been achieved by overlapping the different stages (phase 1, 2 and 3) of clinical testing rather than completing them sequentially.

Assessment of safety has not been compromised and the trials have been subject to the same strict regulatory requirements as any other vaccine studies. Each of the vaccines that has received or is under review for temporary licensing have been tested in trials with over 20,000 people, collecting many months of safety follow-up data. In many cases, these trials are larger than trials for other drugs and vaccines which have been licensed.

See below for information about how vaccines are developed and how some of the administrative processes were speeded up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With thanks to Nature for permission to use this video.3)

WARP Speed

The Oxford COVID-19 vaccine team has worked at unprecedented speed in a race against the global threat to human health that is coronavirus. Information is available on The Oxford Vaccine page. 4)

COVID Messaging

In a new report, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism have assessed and reviewed how people in six countries, including the United Kingdom, access news and information about Covid-19 during late March and early April 2020. (see Reuters TNI 5) )

The researchers have reviewed how people rate the trustworthiness of different sources for news, and the levels of misinformation that people are encountering. You can access the full report on the Reuters Institute’s webpage. 6)

Misinformation Research Lab

Initiative on Vaccine Misinformation

The Challenge

Long-held scientific consensus on vital issues such as climate change or the vaccines is increasingly contested, heavily debated on social media and even in the mainstream news media. New technological innovations like artificial intelligence are discussed in terms that veer from the alarmist to the exuberant.

Public understanding of key issues in science and technology is often limited and misinformation about basic issues in science and technology - from natural selection to global warming - abounds.

How can we better understand public discussions of science and technology, and what can be done to improve them?

In this three-year programme researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism are examining the interplay between systematic misinformation campaigns, news coverage, and increasingly important social media platforms for public understanding of science and technological innovation. The programme looks at the problem of “junk science”, “fake news” and public policy issues.

Oxford Martin Initiative on Vaccine Misinformation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Phil Howard launched a new related initiative to help counter the spread of misleading health information, particularly around COVID-19 vaccinations.

Our aim is to combine social science and computer science to address the damaging impact of computational propaganda and other forms of digitally‐enabled misinformation campaigns on scientific innovation, policy making, and public life. We engage with stakeholders in journalism, the technology industry, the scientific community, and among policymakers in the search for evidence-based actionable interventions.7)

Political Policy Influence

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Misinformation, Science and Media and Director of Research at the Reuters Institute, has joined a European Commission High Level Group to advise on initiatives to counter the spread of disinformation online.

Professor Nielsen says: “Democratic societies need quality information, and I am glad the European Commission is looking for ways policymakers can help citizens, news media, and technology companies ensure that information is produced, distributed, and used in ways that empower ordinary people to take part in public life.”

Nielsen will bring to the group the Reuters Institute’s commitment to connecting independent, evidence-based research with the practical problems faced by citizens, professional journalists, media industries, and policymakers around the world. His input will draw on recent work from the institute including their work on audience perspectives on fake news, and how the media environment is changing. He will also draw on forthcoming research from the new Oxford Martin Programme in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute.

Based on input from academics, technology companies, news media and civil society organisations, the High Level Group will work to contribute to the development of an EU-level strategy to problems of misinformation. 8)

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