Scientists from the University of Glasgow will be part of a newly-launched UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC), which aims to answer key questions on how the immune system interacts with SARS-CoV-2 to help us fight COVID-19 and develop better diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

Researchers from the MRC- University of Glasgow-MRC Centre for Virus Research (CVR) will join colleagues from 17 regional UK centres of excellence across the UK to better understand how the immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2, which is critical to understanding many of the unknowns around this novel virus.

The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium has received £6.5million of funding over 12 months from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the largest immunology grant awarded to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

UK-CIC aims to deliver meaningful benefit for public health by providing insights critical for improving patient management, developing new therapies, assessing immunity within the population and developing diagnostics and vaccines.

CVR researchers include Professor Massimo Palmarini, Dr Antonia Ho, Professor Emma Thomson and Dr Sam Wilson, who will contribute to two of the five key questions that the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium aims to answer.

These are:

• What constitutes immunity to COVID-19 and how long does it last? Prof Emma Thomson and Dr Antonia Ho will analyse samples collected in the ISARIC4C study to determine if pre-existing immunity to a variety of related or unrelated viruses could influence susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

• How does SARS-CoV-2 hide from the immune system? Dr Sam Wilson and Prof Massimo Palmarini will investigate factors in the innate immune system that can potentially block SARS-CoV-2 replication. The interferon response, is one of the key immediate antiviral responses that is deployed by our immune system. In particular, during infection, viruses induce the expression of a variety of a particular class of cellular genes known as interferon stimulated genes (ISG). Some of these ISG have antiviral properties and we will identify (i) which of these ISGS can potentially block SARS-CoV-2 infection and (ii) determine whether there are genetic differences in the population that may affect the function of these genes in certain individuals.

Professor Massimo Palmarini, Director of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR), said: “My colleagues and I at the CVR are extremely proud to be involved in the UK-CIC consortium, and are grateful to UKRI and NIHR for the funding support.

“It’s now more important than ever that the immunology community work together, as we aim to address important, unanswered questions about SARS-C0V-2 as we move through this pandemic.”

The UK leads the world for the quality of our immunology research and this project sees UofG and these centres of excellence combine their expertise to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The CVR is home to the UK’s largest grouping of human and veterinary virologists.

The consortium is led by Professor Paul Moss from the University of Birmingham. The project will use samples and data from major UK COVID-19 projects already underway, and funded by UKRI and NIHR, including ISARIC-4C (characterizing and following more than 75,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19) and the genomic studies COG-UK (sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes) and GenOMICC (sequencing the genomes of people with COVID-19).

The other questions UK-CIC aims to answer are:

Why do people experience different symptoms to COVID-19 and what role does the immune system play in this?

How does the immune system respond to SARS-CoV-2 on a molecular and cellular level and what happens when the immune system overreacts?

Can infection with other mild coronaviruses (which cause the common cold) protect you from catching COVID-19 or will it make you more ill?

UK-CIC is jointly funded by UKRI and NIHR as part of their rolling call for research proposals on COVID-19. It is supported by the British Society for Immunology. The aims of UK-CIC were developed from the research priorities on immunology and COVID-19 set out in May 2020 by the Academy of Medical Sciences and British Society for Immunology expert taskforce on immunology and COVID-19.