As an organisation with expertise in advancing medical research into new therapies and interventions, our skills and resources have been applied to address the coronavirus pandemic.

We have taken steps to ensure we can contribute. We have mobilised our capital, our materials and our people to help address the challenge and will continue to do so while the virus remains a threat to humanity and the global economy. 

Here is how we are applying our resources to address the coronavirus pandemic:

LifeArc scientists play a pivotal role in the search for a COVID-19 therapy

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.

Funding a novel approach to antibody testing

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.

£10m to fund trials of new treatments

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.

£2m provided to STOPCOVID

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.

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.

PPE and equipment donations

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.

Additional support

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.

Workplace risk assessment

LifeArc employees switched to virtual working on 16 March in accordance with UK government advice. A risk assessment was completed shortly afterwards and is reviewed regularly. All three of our sites are open and operating within government guidelines. Our return to site policy is driven by our risk assessment. Find out more about our risk assessment for our return to laboratory sites.