Dr Antonia Ho has been named as one of four leading scientists, whose ground-breaking COVID-19 research shaped national and international responses to the pandemic. Dr Ho, Clinical Senior Lecturer at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, has been announced as a winner of the Medical Research Foundation’s 2021 Emerging Leaders Prize, receiving £100,000.

The awards aim to recognise scientists from across the world who pivoted their research focus to help accelerate our understanding of COVID-19, its effects on the body, and how it can be diagnosed and treated. At record-breaking speed, medical research provided – and continues to provide – the answers to key questions about the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus, along with accurate testing methods, life-saving treatments, protective vaccinations, and policies to keep the most vulnerable safe.

Prior to COVID-19, one of the most common viral infections in the UK was influenza, where many scientists, including Dr Ho, focused their research.

At the start of the pandemic, Dr Ho rapidly transferred her skills and knowledge of flu to lead COVID-19 studies in Malawi and the UK. She identified widespread community transmission in healthcare workers and community members in Malawi during the first wave, resulting in a change in Malawi’s national testing policy.

In addition, as a co-investigator and patient recruitment lead for one of the largest studies of hospitalised COVID-19 patients worldwide, Dr Ho generated an easy-to-use score that can accurately predict the risk of death in hospitalised COVID-19 patients, helping doctors make crucial clinical decisions. This tool has been incorporated into national policy and has been shown to accurately predict COVID-19 deaths in seven other countries.

Dr Ho said: “I feel extremely honoured to be awarded the Emerging Leaders Prize. I will use the funding to generate new knowledge about COVID-19 in African settings, including understanding if prior exposure to other viruses changes the way the immune system responds to COVID-19.

“Understanding what factors determine the disease spectrum of COVID-19 in Africa is crucial to the fundamental understanding of the virus, and will also guide public health measures, optimise vaccination strategies, and inform the management of the next coronavirus pandemic.”

With financial support from Pfizer Limited, the Medical Research Foundation’s 2021 prize awards a total of £400,000 to outstanding researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, King’s College London, the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford, who have all made a significant impact in the fight against COVID-19.

Dr Angela Hind, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation, said: “We are proud to be supporting the next generation of research leaders to build on the knowledge and understanding of COVID-19. Investing in the careers of these outstanding scientists is helping to ensure we are better protected against emerging health threats, as and when they come our way.

“Due to the high quality of applicants and the extent of their impact during the pandemic, coupled with the financial support from Pfizer Limited, we are delighted to have been able to double the prize fund this year to allow for four joint 1st place prizes.”

Dr Berkeley Phillips, Medical Director at Pfizer UK, said: “Pfizer UK is proud to support the scientific leaders of tomorrow through this award. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the impact of high-quality research to critical public health decisions. We owe a debt of gratitude to our four winners who dedicated their skills and tenacity to make such an impact to so many. We look forward to seeing their continued impact in the coming years.”