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New national immunology consortium to tackle COVID-19

28 August 2020

A new UK-wide study launches today to tackle key questions around the immune system’s response to COVID-19. This new initiative, called the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC), is supported by the British Society for Immunology and brings together 17 centres of excellence for immunology research in an unprecedented collaboration. This project aims to deliver meaningful public health benefit within 12 months to increase our ability to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

An individual’s immune response dictates how their body responds to infection by SARS-CoV-2. By building our knowledge of what the immune system is doing at all infection stages, we can use this information to improve patient care as well as developing better diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the disease.

Early in the pandemic, the British Society for Immunology joined forces with the Academy of Medical Sciences to produce an expert paper highlighting immunology research priorities for COVID-19. From this report, the structure of UK-CIC was conceived, with five key areas of focus:

  • Characterising the primary immune response to COVID-19 and how this relates to clinical outcome of individual patients
  • Identifying how effective immunity is established and maintained to prevent re-infection
  • Understanding how the immune system can damage tissue while fighting COVID-19 and how this can be stopped
  • Examining if immunity to other mild ‘seasonal’ coronaviruses (that cause common colds) can alter the outcome of SARS-CoV-2 infection
  • Revealing how SARS-CoV-2 can ‘evade’ the immune system

The UK leads the world for the quality of our immunology research.1 This investment in UK-CIC of £6.5 million by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the largest immunology grant awarded to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with the already established ISARIC-4C initiative, it will support the UK’s outstanding researchers to develop a nationally co-ordinated programme, with overall aim of combining patient samples and expertise to strengthen our understanding of SARS-CoV-2– immune system interactions so we can control the pandemic more effectively. UK-CIC is led by Professor Paul Moss from the University of Birmingham. Professor Arne Akbar, President of the British Society for Immunology, will chair UK-CIC’s Advisory Board, which will deliver independent oversight of the consortium, and input to its strategic priorities.

Professor Arne Akbar, President of the British Society for Immunology and chair of advisory board for UK-CIC, said:

“Throughout this pandemic, the immunology research community has worked rapidly and effectively to increase our understanding of how this novel virus interacts with the immune system. With this significant investment, our scientists can now work together at a national scale to improve our knowledge of the immunology of COVID-19 – an aspect that is critical for long-term control of this pandemic.

“Immunology is one of the core strengths of UK life sciences research. Created based on the report from the Academy of Medical Sciences and British Society for Immunology taskforce, the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium is a much needed response to the ongoing and dynamic challenges produced by the current pandemic. Adopting a national approach is key to the success of this project and the British Society for Immunology will do all we can to support the immunology community working at this unprecedented scale. I’m extremely proud of all we have achieved so far and the collaborative spirit with which our community has approached this initiative. The coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our lives, but research projects such as the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, are a route to better understanding the disease and increasing our ability to improve patient care and develop more effective diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.”  

Professor Paul Moss, Principal Investigator of UK-CIC from University of Birmingham, shared a message about the launch:

“A detailed understanding what happens when the immune system first encounters SARS-CoV-2 and how this battle plays out is essential to our ability to respond to many aspects of this pandemic. Key areas such as understanding how immunity to COVID-19 is generated or why only some people get very sick with the disease can be explained through a better knowledge of the underlying immune system response.

“I’m delighted to lead the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, a new and ambitious project which brings together many of our leading scientists to collaborate on a coordinated national approach to COVID-19 immunology research.  By working together at a national level, we will be able to conduct larger, more robust studies into COVID-19, which will enable us to work quickly to find out how the immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2 at a cellular and molecular level, with a view to hastening effective pandemic control.” 

The British Society for Immunology will provide support to UK-CIC in the areas of patient and public involvement, communications, and governance, alongside running a virtual conference on SARS-CoV-2 immunology in 2021.



Notes for editors

The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium brings together UK immunology centres of excellence to research how the immune system interacts with SARS-CoV-2 to help us develop better diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against COVID-19.

Website: (live from 09:30BST, Friday 28 August 2020)

Twitter: @UKCICstudy (live from Friday 28 August 2020)




1 British Society for Immunology 2020 Protecting the world: Celebrating 200 years of UK vaccine research


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The British Society for Immunology is the leading UK membership organisation working with scientists and clinicians from academia and industry to forward immunology research and application around the world. Our friendly, accessible community consists of more than 4,200 immunologists, giving us a powerful voice to advocate for immunological science and health for the benefit of society. Find out more about our work: