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New UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium to address key unanswered questions about immunity and COVID-19

Press release issued: 10 September 2020

The new UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC) has launched, which aims to answer key questions on how the immune system interacts with SARS-CoV-2 to help us fight COVID-19 and develop better diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

The Children of the 90s health study, based at the University of Bristol, is one of 17 centers combining their expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Identifying how the immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2 is critical to understanding so many of the unknowns around this novel virus – for example, why does it make some people sick and not others, what constitutes effective immunity and how long might that immunity last? The immune system is extremely complex and to make rapid and effective progress in our knowledge, a cohesive, nationally co-ordinated approach is required.

To address this need, the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium has received £6.5million of funding over 12 months from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the largest immunology grant awarded to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. UK-CIC aims to deliver meaningful benefit for public health by providing insights critical for improving patient management, developing new therapies, assessing immunity within the population and developing diagnostics and vaccines.

The UK leads the world for the quality of our immunology research and this project sees 17 of our centres of excellence combine their expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic. This innovative consortium 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, and is supported by the British Society for Immunology.

UK-CIC aims to answer five key questions that will help the global coronavirus response.

  1. Why do people experience different symptoms to COVID-19 and what role does the immune system play in this?
  2. What constitutes immunity to COVID-19 and how long does it last?
  3. How does the immune system respond to SARS-CoV-2 on a molecular and cellular level and what happens when the immune system overreacts?
  4. Can infection with other mild coronaviruses (which cause the common cold) protect you from catching COVID-19 or will it make you more ill?
  5. How does SARS-CoV-2 hide from the immune system? 

Professor Paul Moss, UK-CIC Principal Investigator from the University of Birmingham, said:

“Understanding the complexities of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is key to successfully developing new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against COVID-19. The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium will see the UK immunology community come together in an unprecedented way to answer questions that are crucial in helping us control this pandemic, such as how effective immunity is developed and why individuals respond differently to the disease.

“Immunologists are at the forefront of efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and the UK is a world-leader in immunology research. It’s an honour to lead this consortium to deliver a co-ordinated and agile national research programme to build our knowledge of this disease, which will translate into meaningful benefit for patients. There is so much that we still need to learn about how the novel coronavirus interacts with our immune system and, with this investment, we have a unique opportunity to answer these key questions and hasten effective pandemic control.”

Professor Nic Timpson, Principle Investigator at Children of the 90s said:

"Being involved in the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC) effort is an extremely exciting prospect for the Children of the 90s study along with our sister cohort Born in Bradford. The opportunity to consider how our bodies respond to COVID-19 after having had the infection and going into the winter and next year will be important for understanding of immunity more generally. Turning to population-based cohorts for support in this endeavour is a great chance for immunologists, epidemiologists and population health scientists to pool their expertise, skills and knowledge and to address the critical question around COVID-19 immunity."

Professor Peter Openshaw, UK-CIC Co-Chair and ISARIC-4C lead, from Imperial College London, said:

“Studying the immunology of COVID-19 is vital to our ability to develop new treatments and vaccines against this disease.  ISARIC-4C, an established UK-wide project to study hospitalized patients with COVID-19, has already collected data from over 75,000 people and collected multiple clinical samples from over 2,400 cases. We can follow this unique cohort over time and, by joining forces with the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, have a unique opportunity to analyse the immune profiles of COVID-19 patients. This will help us understand how the immune system protects us from, and reacts to, SARS-CoV-2.  Unpicking the intricacies of the immune response will improve patient care and support the development of new treatments against COVID-19. The UK can lead the world in studies of this type”. 

Professor Tracy Hussell, Theme Lead for UK-CIC, from The University of Manchester said:

“The immune system is one of the most complicated systems in the human body but understanding how it reacts during and after infection with SARS-CoV-2 is critical to our ability to control this pandemic. This immune system response not only dictates how quickly you can clear the virus but also how sick you will get, as well as how long any immunity generated to the virus might last. The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium want to look at what happens on a cellular and molecular level when someone contracts COVID-19 and find out what exactly their immune system is doing.  We will work with colleagues around the country to build our understanding of how different people react to COVID-19 with the ultimate aim of improving patient care at all levels.”  

UK-CIC is jointly funded by UKRI and NIHR as part of their rolling call for research proposals on COVID-19. It is supported by the British Society for Immunology. The aims of UK-CIC were developed from the research priorities on immunology and COVID-19 set out in May 2020 by the Academy of Medical Sciences and British Society for Immunology expert taskforce on immunology and COVID-19.

Further information

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.


Twitter: @UKCICstudy 


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