As we adapt to the evolving coronavirus pandemic, we continue to support the UK's best medical and health researchers and ensure their voices are included in the important discussions and decision-making ahead.
[Page last updated 31 July]
“Uncertainty is inevitable in the coming months: it is amazing how much we have learnt already about a virus that emerged just a few months ago. Science thrives on debate and it is often the interaction of conflicting views and challenge that drives progress.
“However in an epidemic situation, like the one we are facing, people want certainty and firm reassurance. Trustworthy advice, from credible experts can quickly be politicised. Scientists bear a strong responsibility here and must work to ensure the public have access to the latest reliable evidence whilst at the same time maintaining awareness of its impact in the ongoing broader societal debate.”
Academy President Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, 16 March 2020
Our Press Office is working to help ensure journalists have access to the UK's best medical and health experts throughout the pandemic. We are working directly with - and strongly recommended contacting in the first instance - the Science Media Centre (firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)20 7611 8300).
Our Fellowship, including the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, are leading the UK scientific response to COVID-19. We will continue to work with our researchers to provide expert advice to Government, stakeholders and the public throughout this pandemic.
Our President and Vice-Presidents have featured on national media since mid-March providing expert commentary on the latest pandemic developments. This includes both print and broadcast media, both TV and radio, and includes some of the UK's largest news sources, including the BBC News at Ten, BBC Radio 4 Today, Sky News and more. Our President has also continued to issue response statements reflecting on the most recent medical and health developments throughout the pandemic.
On 3 February, we published this blog from our Vice President Professor Dame Anne Johnson FMedSci: Novel coronavirus: Are we ready? Before the UK lockdown in March, we hosted the Science Media Centre for a press conference specifically to give health and science journalists time with Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, which was streamed live on BBC2 and other outlets. The full briefing is available to watch below. (Wednesday 19 March)
Our policy work continues to inform and reflect the issues critical to a healthy society, both in the UK and from a global perspective.
In the UK:
Preparing for challenges this winter
The Academy has convened an expert group to explore what challenges we might face this winter when coronavirus and other seasonal diseases are present, and how the UK can prepare for this. This rapid response project will aim to summarise the extent of our current knowledge to inform Government’s planning for this winter. Find out more on our dedicated policy page.
The Academy and the British Society for Immunology have rapidly convened an expert group to collate what is currently known about the immunology of COVID-19 and develop Immunology research priorities in response to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). The expert group will publish their outputs within approximately three weeks (May 2020), with the intention of urgently mobilising and coordinating the UK’s immunology research response to coronavirus (COVID-19). Find out more on our dedicated policy page.
Preclinical drug discovery and development
The Academy has launched a survey and database to map ongoing and emerging COVID-19 preclinical drug development research activities to help researchers and funders identify opportunities for collaboration, avoid duplication of effort and prioritise the most promising research. Find out more on our dedicated policy page.
Mental health research priorities
In late March, the Academy and MQ rapidly convened an expert group to develop mental health and neuroscience research priorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.The expert group set out the immediate priorities and longer-term strategies for mental health science research in a Position Paper published 15 April 2020 in The Lancet Psychiatry, aiming to urgently mobilise and coordinate the UK’s mental health and neuroscience research response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a joint statement with MQ, the Academy has endorsed the research priorities set out in this Paper. Find out more on our dedicated policy page.
On 3 June, NIHR announced a new highlight notice using our policy work in this area to incentivise new research proposals on the acute mental health effects of the pandemic.
Key media responses include:
- BBC News: Coronavirus: 'Profound' mental health impact prompts calls for urgent research (Thursday 16 April 2020)
- Guardian: 'Urgent studies needed' into mental health impact of coronavirus (Thursday 16 April 2020)
- i Newspaper: Coronavirus lockdown: UK faces mental health crisis ‘perfect storm’ (Thursday 16 April 2020)
- Daily Mail: Scientists call for urgent research to protect frontline workers and the vulnerable from the 'profound and pervasive impact' of coronavirus lockdown on mental health (Thursday 16 April 2020)
- BBC Radio 4 Today: interviews with key authors (2:50:00, Thursday 16 April 2020)
Young people and COVID-19
We are excited to be working with Vocal at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Wowbagger Productions to create a comic called Planet Divoc-91 that empowers young adults (16-25 year olds) to make sense of the coronavirus pandemic through an engaging story and access to evidence and experts from different research disciplines. You can view the first chapter 'Transparency is for windows' and read more about the project launch here. If you would like to hear more or contribute as one of the experts working with the young adults to understand the pandemic and develop their own content, please contact email@example.com.
Ethical framework for COVID-19 testing
The Academy endorsed a project run by Regional Champion Professor Mary Dixon-Woods FMedSci of The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS), a research centre based at the University of Cambridge and funded by the Health Foundation. The report Testing times: an ethical framework and practical recommendations for COVID-19 testing for NHS workers, was published on 21 July. Following work with an expert group and a stakeholder consultation, it identifies ethical considerations and provides practical guidance and recommendations to identify good practice and support improvement. Having an ethical framework to supports wide testing of healthcare workers is vital to address the workforce challenges noted in our report Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21, particularly ensuring staff can work if they are well and test negative, and preventing transmission in healthcare settings.
Patient and public involvement and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic
The Academy held a digital FORUM workshop, in partnership with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Association of Medical Research Charities and the National Institute for Health Research, exploring what we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic on system-wide implementation of patient and public involvement in life science research. Find out more on our event page.
Around the world:
Addressing the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic in low and middle-income countries
The UK Academy of Medical Sciences is convening an international virtual workshop on the response to the current COVID-19 pandemic in collaboration with eight Academies and organisations from low- and middle- income countries: Argentina; Brazil; India; Malaysia; the Philippines; South Africa; Uganda; and The African Academy of Sciences. The workshop will consider the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic across three specific areas – public health; social and behavioural; and clinical – in several low- and middle-income countries across the world: Malaysia, Philippines, India, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Brazil and Argentina. Find out more, including how to watch the final day of the workshop online, on our dedicated event page.
International: epidemic preparedness
On 20 February, we published a joint report on interdisciplinary research in epidemic preparedness and response. The workshop Chair, Professor Jimmy Whitworth FMedSci, Professor of International Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, shares key messages from the workshop in this blog. This was the result of a two-day workshop in October 2019 hosted jointly by the InterAcademy Partnership and the Medical Research Council and as part of our Global Challenges Research Fund policy programme.
Ahead of the release of this report, our Vice President - International, Professor Dame Anne Johnson FMedSci, also Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London, reflected on the world's preparedness for the Covid-19 epidemic. Read the full blog: Novel coronavirus: Are we ready? (3 February)
International: Brazil/UK virtual meeting on COVID-19
In the present crisis, the Brazilian National Academy of Medicine and the UK Academy of Medical Sciences are collaborating and sharing experiences to better collaborate in their respective countries with the view that science, science values and scientific approaches to problem-solving remains the best hope for humanity to overcome the present crisis. Following the virtual meeting on the 16 April jointly hosted by the Academies which shared learning from tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, the two Academy's have published a joint statement on COVID-19. More information can be found on our dedicated event page.
Rapid testing of new vaccines
The Academy has previously addressed the key issues and challenges around rapid vaccine development through our work on controlled human infection challenge studies - where a well-characterised strain of an infectious agent is given to carefully selected adult volunteers in order to better understand the disease. This 2018 workshop, held in collaboration with Wellcome and the Human Infection Challenge vaccine network, discussed the current environment for controlled human infection challenge studies in the UK and how to ensure appropriate oversight of this research. Read the full report.
We have previously also supported and reflected on high-level responses to different viral outbreaks, in particular with our 2005 report on pandemic influenza and the 2007 follow up symposium with the Royal Society. In 2015, we also partnered with the Wellcome Trust to explore the use of neuraminidase inhibitors in influenza.
Research is a key part of addressing the COVID-19 epidemic. We are supporting initiatives to ensure data is shared effectively and helping organisations co-ordinate to support rapid and effective epidemic preparedness and response.
Data sharing and transparency
Together with over 60 other funders, academies and scientific organisations from across the globe, we have called on researchers, journals and funders to ensure that research findings and data relevant to this outbreak are shared rapidly and openly to inform the public health response and help save lives.
This joint letter, published on 31 January 2020, affirms our commitment to the principles set out in the 2016 Statement on data sharing in public health emergencies, and will seek to ensure that the World Health Organization has rapid access to emerging findings that could aid the global response.
As part of our commitment to open access, we also require all our grant awardees to ensure their peer-reviewed, original research publications are freely publically available - ideally immediately, or if not within 6 months. Read our full policy here.
Coordination of research funding
The Academy is a member of the Epidemics Preparedness and Response Group convened by the UK Collaborative on Development Research. This group supports UK research funders to share relevant information, network and communicate to support coherence and collaboration in the funding and the use of research in epidemics preparedness and response.
Key related work from other organisations
- The National Institute of Health Research is funding and helping to deliver a range of “rapid response” research to better understand and tackle COVID-19, including research into vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, and real-time collection of samples and data from people undergoing treatment in hospitals. Find out more.
The Health Research Authority have developed new decision tools and a fast-track review process to support researchers to gain the necessary ethical approval as soon as possible for research relating to coroavirus. Information about each new approved COVID-19 research project is being published on their website.
UKRI have published 'Coronavirus: the science explained' This website, regularly updated, lays out the facts about COVID-19, the epidemic, and its control.
- A selection of research funding calls and support from other organisations are highlighted here.
We will be as flexible as possible to support all our researchers around the challenges of COVID-19.
We've created a career support space offering resources and signposting support for: NHS staff on the frontline; clinicians and clinical academics who have returned to full time clinical work; biomedical researchers, PIs and group leaders leading research teams remotely; and promoting wellbeing resources for all.
We've published a series of FAQs answering key questions around our grant schemes and applications - click here to download (also available as a download on this page).
Our grants support many clinical academics now being asked to pause their research and focus on patient care. Together with the wider research community, we quickly issued guidance to reassure our awardees that you have our full support (read the full joint statement on the Royal College of Physicians’ website). We have also worked with the UK Clinical Academic Training Forum to develop the guidance document 'Progressing UK clinical academic training in 2020: addressing the challenges of COVID-19' (also available as a download on this page).
Our programme of grant funding is continuing to operate, although timings may change. Please visit individual scheme pages for details about specific grant rounds.
Staff are working remotely and will continue to provide support to applicants and awardees.
We will be as flexible as possible to support all our researchers around the challenges to their work from coronavirus. If you encounter problems that may result in a delay to the start of your Award, please contact us as soon as possible to discuss this. If you encounter problems during your Award, we encourage you to not request a no-cost extension until the last three months of the Award, so that all factors can be considered and multiple requests for the same Award can be reduced. Please note that all requests for extensions should be made prior to your Award end date. We will continue to consider requests for no-cost extensions on a case-by-case basis, but please be assured that requests for no-cost extensions to Awards that have been impacted by Covid-19 will be granted.
Please visit individual scheme pages for details about specific grant rounds.
Visit our COVID-19 career support space.
All Academy work and events will be online until 2021.
We are continuing a full programme of work virtually, including grants, policy, and career support programmes. Please see our events page and individual programme pages for more information. Staff are working remotely and will continue to support our Fellows, grant awardees and programme participants.