We are applying our expertise and resources in advancing medical research to help the scientific community address the coronavirus pandemic.
To date, we have provided more than £27 million to fund the search for new medicines and diagnostics to tackle the disease, as well as mobilised our materials and our people – and we will continue to do so while the virus remains a threat to humanity.
Read more about our activities below.
In July 2021, we joined forces with PharmEnable to discover novel oral antiviral drugs with activity against coronaviruses.
PharmEnable, an AI drug discovery company unlocking challenging biological targets, will identify three-dimensional small molecule drug candidates with improved specificity compared with traditional screening methods. LifeArc will provide resources for the synthesis, optimisation and biological validation of molecules, as well as contribute our expertise in the translation of early-stage science into healthcare treatments.
We are providing £5 million funding to support the work of the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, led by the GenOMICC consortium in partnership with Genomics England. The study, launched in May 2020, is using genomics to investigate why some people are affected more severely by COVID-19, and increase our understanding about the disease.
We provided £2m to establish CRUSH (COVID-19 Drug-Screening and Resistance Hub) at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR), with additional funding from the Medical Research Council, and in collaboration with the University of Dundee Drug Discovery Unit.
The ground-breaking project will establish a national resource which will initially be dedicated to supporting and accelerating vital COVID-19 antiviral innovation drug translation. It will also help support the global scientific effort against the disease by providing a fully integrated hub for pre-clinical drug screening and resistance assays for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as providing the same services for other dangerous and deadly viruses in high containment facilities.
LifeArc played a pivotal role as part of the UK BIA Antibody Taskforce, helping with the screening and analysis of novel antibody therapy candidates that might protect against or treat SARS-CoV-2 infections.
The UK BIA Antibody Task Force, a leading UK consortium developing antibodies for treating COVID-19, announced on 29 October 2020 that it has reached a major milestone – the identification of differentiated antibody combinations that will be taken forward for further development as an antibody “cocktail”.
LifeArc’s role in this consortium, along with other parties, has been to help screen, analyse, test and characterise over 600 antibody candidates. This work included computational support for the analysis of antibody sequences, expression and purification resource for antibody candidates, functional testing and an assessment of suitability for immediate progression of lead candidates with the greatest efficacy and suitability for manufacturing at scale.
LifeArc and Medical Research Scotland are funding a collaboration between scientists from the University of Edinburgh’s Colleges of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and Science and Engineering to develop a sophisticated antibody test to better quantify the number of cases of COVID-19, including those that may be asymptomatic or have recovered.
Antibody tests are blood-based tests that can be used to identify whether people have been exposed to a pathogen by looking at their immune response. This contrasts with the tests that are currently being used globally to diagnose cases of COVID-19 that can only indicate the presence of viral material during infection – not if a person has been infected and subsequently recovered. As the body retains antibodies against pathogens it has already overcome, this test can give greater detail into the prevalence of infection in a population.
Current research indicates that SARS-CoV-2 does not provoke a strong immune response in the body and any antibodies produced are often short lived. This is reflected in the large number of antibody tests that have been tested and found to be unsuitable for widespread use.
The approach being adopted by the University of Edinburgh team includes screening vast numbers of peptides and the production of glycosolyated antigenic peptides to dramatically increase the range of antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 that can be detected compared to other available tests. The Edinburgh University team will exploit 3D protein modelling to generate an ‘antibody fingerprint’, which can then be used to stratify patients, predict re-infection rates and longevity of the immune response, provide epidemiological data and potentially monitor future vaccine efficacy.
This project will result in actionable data arising from individuals exposed to the virus. It could help monitor outbreaks, guide policy decisions such as de-escalation of restrictions or initiation of further periods of lockdown.
The team will work with the Edinburgh Genome Foundry and the Edinburgh Protein Production Facility at the School of Biological Sciences and will bring together leading expertise in protein computer modelling, molecular biology, gene engineering, high-throughput synthesis, immunology and chemistry to develop the test.
In recognition of the clear, urgent need for treatments that can reduce the mortality and morbidity rate of COVID-19, LifeArc set aside £10 million to finance research into existing or late stage development therapies that could have the potential to be repurposed for use in COVID-19 patients. This is intended to rapidly help address the current absence of any clinically proven therapies.
We received an incredible response to the call, which closed on 6 April. An independent, expert Scientific Review Panel selected 15 projects for funding, based on their ability to rapidly start trials and their potential to deliver an improvement to COVID-19 patients. Find out more about these projects.
We have provided £2m of funding support to the University of Edinburgh’s STOPCOVID project. The project will enable 150 scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Inflammation Research to be deployed to work on a project that aims to test existing and experimental drugs to find a treatment for COVID-19.
Drugs to be tested on lungs of ICU coronavirus patients through the ‘STOPCOVID’ initiative at Edinburgh Universityhttps://t.co/XaGPgLmE1m
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) April 16, 2020
STOPCOVID will focus on the inflammatory pathways that lead directly to lung injury, which is associated with the most severe aspects of COVID-19. Excessive inflammation can cause the lungs to fail, leading to death. Researchers will test drugs to see if they can block this and other damaging types of inflammation in the early stages of the disease to change the course of infection and prevent the need of a ventilator.
While our laboratories are out of operation, we have provided our spare and unused equipment to those who are actively addressing the coronavirus challenge. We have sent PPE (personal protective equipment) to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge and spare boxes of plasticware – necessary for coronavirus testing – to the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh, to support diagnostic testing of NHS staff.
At the request of the Government, we willingly provided large lab equipment to help with operations through the diagnostic testing centres that it has established throughout the country.
We are in ongoing dialogue with membership groups such as the BioIndustry Association and British InVitro Diagnostics Association as well as the Government, to identify how we can support for the activities to counteract the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic we have conducted our activities in accordance with UK government guidelines and our assessment of risk. A risk assessment was completed in March 2020 and has been reviewed regularly since then. We commenced the reopening of our sites from May, setting out a clear site operating policy driven by our risk assessment. Taken together, our risk assessment and return to site policies set the framework for maintaining a safe working environment for all colleagues.