Thousands of people suffering with long COVID will benefit from new research programmes backed by £19.6 million to help better understand the condition, improve diagnosis and find new treatments.
An extensive programme of 15 new research studies, backed by government funding through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will allow researchers across the UK to draw together their expertise from analysing long COVID among those suffering long-term effects and the health and care professionals supporting them.
The latest research shows that although many people make a full recovery following COVID-19, a significant proportion of people continue to experience chronic symptoms for months. These ground breaking studies aim to help those people affected return to their normal lives.
The projects will focus on:
- Better understanding the condition and identifying it
- Evaluating the effectiveness of different care services
- Better integrating specialist, hospital and community services for those suffering with long COVID
- Identifying effective treatments, such as drugs, rehabilitation and recovery to treat people suffering from chronic symptoms
- Improving home monitoring and self-management of symptoms, including looking at the impact of diet, and
- Identifying and understanding the effect of particular symptoms of long COVID, such as breathlessness, reduced ability to exercise and brain fog
Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:
“Long COVID can have serious and debilitating long term effects for thousands of people across the UK which can make daily life extremely challenging.
“This new research is absolutely essential to improve diagnosis and treatments and will be life-changing for those who are battling long-term symptoms of the virus.
“It will build on our existing support with over 80 long COVID assessment services open across England as part of a £100 million expansion of care for those suffering from the condition and over £50 million invested in research to better understand the lasting effects of this condition.”
Professor Nick Lemoine, Chair of NIHR’s long COVID funding committee and Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), said:
“This package of research will provide much needed hope to people with long-term health problems after COVID-19, accelerating development of new ways to diagnose and treat long COVID, as well as how to configure healthcare services to provide the absolute best care. Together with our earlier round of funding, NIHR has invested millions into research covering the full gamut of causes, mechanisms, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of long COVID.”
The selection process for this broad range of innovative studies into long COVID involved people with lived experience at every stage and their input has been invaluable in shaping the outcome of this call and the research projects which will receive funding.
The projects include:
- STIMULATE-ICP at University College London which will be the largest long COVID trial to date, recruiting more than 4,500 people with the condition. With £6.8 million of funding, the project will test the effectiveness of existing drugs to treat long COVID by measuring the effects of 3 months’ treatment, including on people’s symptoms, mental health and outcomes such as returning to work. It will also assess the use of MRI scans to help diagnose potential organ damage, as well as enhanced rehabilitation through an app to track their symptoms.
- The immunologic and virologic determinants of long COVID at Cardiff University with nearly £800,000, which will look at the role of the immune system in long-term disease and whether overactive or impaired immune responses could drive long COVID by causing widespread inflammation.
- ReDIRECT at University of Glasgow backed by nearly £1 million, which will assess whether a weight management programme can reduce symptoms of long COVID in people who are overweight or obese.
- LOCOMOTION at University of Leeds with £3.4 million, which focuses on identifying and promoting the most effective care, from accurate assessments in long COVID clinics to the best advice and treatment in surgeries, as well as home monitoring methods that can show flare-ups of symptoms. The research aims to establish a gold standard of care that can be shared across England and the rest of the UK.
- EXPLAIN at University of Oxford backed by £1.8 million, which will seek to diagnose ongoing breathlessness in people with COVID-19 who were not admitted to hospital, using MRI scans to trace inhaled gas moving into and out of the lungs to assess their severity and whether they improve over time.
These new projects follow the 4 studies announced earlier this year, backed by £18.5 million, to help better understand the causes, symptoms and treatment of the condition.
UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said:
“Long Covid is a terrible illness affecting thousands of people across the UK, and as it’s such a new disease, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it.
“This UK Government funding, which is supporting studies led by the University of Glasgow and University of the West of Scotland, will help us make progress in understanding long Covid and hopefully improve treatment and support for patients right across the UK.”
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said:
“The development and distribution of the vaccine means we can now see an end to the pandemic and Wales has played a significant part via Wrexham’s Wockhardt facility where the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine continues to be produced.
“Following this investment I hope Cardiff University can play a similarly important role in understanding and countering the long-term effects of the virus as we emerge from the pandemic.”