We’re excited to announce the launch of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC), a new research initiative, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and supported by the British Society for Immunology. It will bring together 17 UK centres for immunology research in an unprecedented collaboration to answer key questions around the immune system’s response to COVID-19. It aims to deliver meaningful public health benefit within 12 months to increase our ability to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 UKRI and NIHR is the largest immunology grant awarded to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. It will support the development of a nationally co-ordinated programme, with the overall aim of combining patient samples and expertise to strengthen our understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with the immune system so we can control the pandemic more effectively. UK-CIC is led by Professor Paul Moss from the University of Birmingham. It will collaborate closely with ISARIC-4C, an internationally-leading project already underway to examine the immune profile of hospitalised patients with COVID-19
The BSI will support UK-CIC in a number of ways including:
- our President, Professor Arne Akbar, will chair its Advisory Board, which will deliver independent oversight of the consortium, and input to its strategic priorities
- ensuring that the views of patients and the public influence the direction of research through a patient public involvement programme for UK-CIC
- responsible for communicating progress of the consortium’s research engaging with all key audiences from researchers to policy makers to the public
- running a virtual conference on SARS-CoV-2 immunology in 2021
The BSI exists to promote and support excellence in immunological research and clinical practice. Immunologists have been at the forefront of research efforts into COVID-19 and we couldn't be prouder of how our community has stepped up to this challenge. By working with UK-CIC, we aim to support UK immunology as a whole to collaborate at a national level to answer the big outstanding questions around how the immune system interacts with SARS-CoV-2, with a view to improving diagnosis and treatment as well as supporting the quest to find a vaccine. Through supporting this inclusive approach across the whole immunology community, we will aim for a lasting positive legacy, creating a blueprint that could be exploited for future national collaborative efforts within immunology.
FIND OUT MORE
- Visit the UK-CIC website
- Join the conversation online by following @UKCICstudy on Twitter
- Sign up to the UK-CIC mailing list to receive regular updates on the project.
A note from 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 the 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.”
Dr Jo Jenkinson, Head of Infection & Immunity at the Medical Research Council, UKRI, who are co-funding the consortium:
“This devastating pandemic has highlighted to everyone the critical role of the immune system. All our lives are being impacted by the uncertainties around the nature and duration of immunity to COVID-19, following infection, and how effectively the immune system will respond to the potential vaccines being developed by researchers. The Medical Research Council has worked with the UK immunology community and ISARIC-4C, on behalf of UKRI, NIHR and Department for Health and Social Care, to bring together 17 research institutions to address the key research gaps identified by Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the British Society for Immunology, Academy of Medical Sciences and Medical Research Council. This initiative has been designed to provide a platform to enable further studies of COVID-19 immunology and infection by all UK immunology and virology researchers in order to address key gaps in our understanding of how the immune response relates to clinical outcome.”
Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, BSI Trustee and chair of BSI Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce, shares her support of this initiative:
“SARS-CoV-2 has changed the world and thrown immunology into the spotlight. We all have important questions: Can we get immunity to the virus? Why do some people get sick more than others? What tips the balance between an effective immune response and one that causes illness? The complexity of immunology often means that individual research labs study intricate detail on just one aspect of an immune response. To meet the challenge of SARS-CoV-2, the scientists of UK-CIC and ISARIC-4C have brought the UK immunology community together like never before to ensure that as much insight as possible can be gained from sharing expertise and patient samples. This unique collaboration showcases some of the awesome immunology talent we have in the UK and I look forward to seeing the answers emerge."
1 British Society for Immunology 2020 Protecting the world: Celebrating 200 years of UK vaccine research