Liverpool scoops £18.6 million research grant to tackle infectious diseases

26 June 2020
Image: Conor Samuel

A Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine-led consortium has received an £18.6 million grant from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund (SIPF) to deliver a major project to tackle infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

The funding award recognises Liverpool City Region’s world-class expertise in infectious diseases. Alongside private sector investment, it will support a five-year project to create eight specialist research platforms for infectious diseases therapeutics aiming to fast-track the discovery, development, evaluation and impact assessment of potential new products and treatments.

The consortium, which is led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), includes the Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Unilever UK, University of Liverpool, and Evotec and the AMR Centre, which are based at Alderley Park, Cheshire.

The Liverpool City Region is a leading hub of infectious diseases research in the UK. Combined with Cheshire and Warrington, it represents the largest national concentration of infectious diseases expertise in Britain and is set to become a test bed for new diagnostic technology development and evaluation trials for COVID-19.

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “The need to develop new treatments for infectious diseases has never been clearer, so this funding is fantastic news. This new approach to public R&D investment aims to boost local economic growth by building on world-class research and innovation capacity.

“This grant recognises the region’s existing strengths in this area and has already generated guarantees of around £90m for pilot projects eager to use the new platforms. There is great potential for high-quality jobs and economic value for Liverpool City Region and beyond.”

Access to world-leading expertise and a large concentration of highly secure Category 3 containment facilities in laboratories at LSTM and the University of Liverpool, has enabled the city region to be at the vanguard of new studies exploring potential treatments for COVID-19.

A Liverpool consortium of some 40 scientists has already established a COVID-19 pre-clinical pipeline to identify, prioritise and validate pre-clinical candidates suitable for clinical Phase I and Phase II studies to be undertaken in partnership with Liverpool Health Partners (LHP).

LSTM is also currently undertaking two major trials in response to COVID-19, and coordinates the Liverpool node of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in human trial stage. Diagnostic technologies at LSTM have been rapidly adapted to provide approved diagnostics to meet the needs of the COVID-19 outbreak. LSTM has been central to the validation of lab based COVID-19 anti-body tests and rapid diagnostic tests with multiple commercial and academic partners.

Project lead, LSTM’s Professor Janet Hemingway, said: “LSTM devised this programme together with our industrial, NHS and academic partners aiming to be the first choice globally for infection research and development initiatives. This grant secures the international reputation of the region in infection innovation and will attract substantive follow-on international investment.”

LSTM Director, Professor David Lalloo, said: “Throughout its history, LSTM has always been at the forefront in innovative approaches in finding solutions for human infections. The current global COVID-19 outbreak shows again how essential and relevant our global expertise in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of these diseases is.”

Unilever’s Chief Research & Development Officer, Richard Slater, said: “This year has highlighted the importance of working together to prevent infectious diseases in a way that many of us couldn’t previously imagine. We are delighted at the support awarded to our collaborative effort to develop new products that can directly reduce the burden of infectious diseases in the UK and around the world.”UKRI is making these awards following a competitive assessment process, which are subject to final checks.

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