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COVID-19 immunity research boosted by data platform

Members of BREATHE – the Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health have joined forces with researchers from across the UK to boost vital studies into coronavirus antibodies and immunity.

The £4m project will pool existing UK coronavirus antibody data in one secure source to accelerate the search for treatments and inform decisions around shielding and public health restrictions.

Researchers say the new initiative – called CO-CONNECT – will help them address fundamental questions about how immunity develops and how it could help prevent the virus spreading in schools and workplaces.

Coronavirus immunity

Widespread lockdowns were put in place in many countries in 2020 to restrict the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection, but with these restrictions came significant social and economic consequences.

As yet, it is not known how long immunity lasts after coronavirus infection or why some people are more at risk of severe disease.

Understanding more about immunity could be key to protecting vulnerable people, limiting the spread of disease and developing targeted public health measures as the pandemic continues.

Antibody data

The UK is already home to coronavirus antibody datasets based on blood samples taken from volunteers with Covid-19. However, there is little consistency in how these datasets are collected and stored, limiting their usefulness.

The new initiative – supported by HDR UK – will bring data together in a coherent and consistent way that will make it easier for scientists to quickly draw conclusions.

Healthcare link

The project will also connect antibody data to existing healthcare records to allow research teams to find links between Covid-19 outcomes and other diseases, as well as characteristics such as age and sex.

These links are vital to inform decisions about who is most at risk of severe disease and how best to treat them.

One-stop shop

The project brings together 29 different organisations and 44 data sources across the UK, including many facilitated by BREATHE, to create a ‘one-stop’ service for trustworthy Covid-19 antibody data.

The collaboration – led by the Universities of Edinburgh, Dundee, Nottingham and Public Health England – draws on expertise in securely managing anonymous data at huge scales.

The project is co-led by Professor Aziz Sheikh, BREATHE Director, and includes involvement from Professor David Ford, BREATHE Chief Data Officer, and Professor Ian Hall, BREATHE Programme Lead – Drug Discovery and Pharmacogenomics.

The project has also prioritised representation from patients and the public, with activity led by BREATHE lay representatives Antony Chuter and Jillian Beggs, alongside Professor Aziz Sheikh.

This collaboration presents a huge opportunity to improve the lives of people across the UK and globally, by harnessing the power of our health data. Bringing the patient and public voice to the table will help us to deliver the best possible outcomes, and keep privacy and transparency at the top of the agenda.

Antony ChuterBREATHE Lay Lead

Large datasets are transforming healthcare research and initiatives like CO-CONNECT will be key to accelerating research into Covid-19 antibodies. This UK-wide initiative brings together data custodians and experts with a wealth of experience in health data management who will collaborate to develop new insights into Covid-19 and speed up the search for treatments that are so badly needed.

 Professor Aziz SheikhDirector of BREATHE and of the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh

We are really excited to be bringing together the best of the UK’s data assets into an accessible and harmonised dataset. It will ensure leading researchers have access to the latest data and at the scale required to give definitive answers to some of the most significant questions that require an answer. We are really thankful to all the leading organisations that have come together to make this possible in the spirit of collaboration under the vision of ensuring data can help save lives.

Dr Philip QuinlanHead of Digital Research Service at the University of Nottingham

The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), through the UKRI-NIHR COVID-19 Rapid Response Rolling Call.

Related links

BREATHE - Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health

Image credit: Getty images [peterschreiber.media]