Could having a common cold protect you from Covid-19? Scientists given £8.4million to answer


Could having a common cold protect you from coronavirus? Government gives scientists £8.4million to discover the truth on Covid-19 immunity

  • The cash will be spread across three separate studies involving 17 institutions 
  • They will all investigate a range of questions about immunity to SARS-CoV-2
  • The largest will seek the truth on whether there is cross-protection from a cold  

British scientists have been given £8.4million to try and answer burning questions about Covid-19 immunity.

Topics being explored include whether having had a cold could protect you against the disease and how long antibodies last for.

The cash will be spread across three separate studies tasked with investigating the immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

More than 820,000 people have been killed by the coronavirus worldwide since its discovery eight months ago in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The research will cover everything from why some people only have mild infections, to what happens to organs in the last days of life in people who die from Covid-19.  

The UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research are funding the studies, which bring together scientists from 17 institutions. 

British scientists have been given £8.4million to try and answer burning questions about Covid-19, including whether the common cold can protect you against the disease (stock)

Chief Medical Officer for England and Head of the NIHR Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘Understanding how our immune systems respond to Covid-19 is key to solving some of the important questions about this new disease, including whether those who have had the disease develop immunity and how long this lasts, and why some are more severely affected.’

The most amount of funding (£6.5million) will go to The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC), led by University of Birmingham.


1. The UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC)

Funding: £6.5million

Who runs it? Professor Paul Moss at the University of Birmingham

Investigating: It will see to answer key questions such as; How long does immunity to Covid-19 last? Does immunity to previous common colds alter a person’s outcome? Why are some people’s immune systems better able to fight the virus?

Who will be involved? The project will use samples and data from major UK Covid-19 projects already underway, including ISARIC-4C and the genomic studies COG-UK and GenOMICC.

2. The Humoral Immune Correlates of COVID-19 (HICC) consortium

Funding: £1.5million 

Who runs it? Professor Wilhelm Schwaeble and Professor Jonathan Heeney at the University of Cambridge

Investigating: The role of antibodies in immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and how it is different between people who have mild or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection versus those who develop moderate or severe Covid-19 disease.

Who will be involved: NHS workers, in collaboration with SIREN, will have immunity tracked over 12 months. Hospital patients will also be involved.

3. ICECAP – ‘Inflammation in Covid-19: Exploration of Critical Aspects of Pathogenesis’.

Funding: £394,000

Who runs it? Dr Christopher Lucas at the University of Edinburgh

Investigating: The key features of fatal Covid-19 and the impact the virus has upon the lungs and other vital organs. The researchers will analyse tissue samples from post mortems and gather information on multiple organs.

Who will be involved? Hospital patients who have died of Covid-19.

It will seek the truth on whether people who have had previous infections with seasonal coronaviruses, which cause the common cold, have some sort of cross-protection against SARS-CoV-2, after a slew of studies have suggested so.

Scientists will try and gain a better understanding of various immune responses to Covid-19, particularly the T cell response which is thought to be most active in younger, healthier people. 

Lead researcher Professor Paul Moss said: ‘There is so much that we still need to learn about how the novel coronavirus interacts with our immune systems and, with this investment, we have a unique opportunity to answer these key questions and hasten effective pandemic control.’ 

Researchers at The Humoral Immune Correlates of COVID-19 (HICC) consortium will receive £1.5million. 

Professor Wilhelm Schwaeble at the University of Cambridge and colleagues will focus on antibodies and how levels of the proteins vary between those who get mild disease compared to severe.

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system to fight infection, and are designed so they remember the virus if it invades the body again.

But there are concerns antibodies to Covid-19 don’t last for long in those who produce them, which would make re-infection possible.

The study authors said: ‘In critical care, we know most patients have high levels of antibody to SARS-CoV-2 however what we don’t know is whether these antibodies are helpful.’ 

The third study led by the University of Edinburgh will specifically focus on patients who have died of Covid-19, using post-mortems to analyse them.

Some £394,000 will be granted for researchers to look at tissue samples collected from deceased patients, to see if the coronavirus is present in vital organs.

It will also help work out how the body’s immune system responds to Covid-19, considering so many victims die not due to the virus, but of heart attacks, strokes, lung failure and the ‘cytokine storm’ – when the body overreacts to an infection and kills healthy tissues.

Dr Christopher Lucas is leading the project, titled ‘Inflammation in Covid-19: Exploration of Critical Aspects of Pathogenesis’, or ICECAP.

He said: ‘There is only so much that we can learn from clinical examinations and blood tests. By having a deeper look at those who have died from Covid-19 through post-mortem examination… this will allow us to rapidly answer key clinical questions and help inform the care of patients and the development of new treatments.’  


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