One year on: North West businesses and researchers in the battle against COVID-19

Over the past year, up and down the UK, thousands of research and innovation projects have been publicly funded to tackle the pandemic. Researchers and businesses in the North West are playing a key role in how the UK is combatting COVID-19. Their work forms part of a £550 million COVID-19 rapid investment programme by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) – the largest public funder of research and development in the UK.

The diversity of UKRI-funded projects is vast – from the world’s first COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, to projects that help us understand and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our economy, environment, education, arts sector and mental health. This funding builds on decades of public investment and research expertise which have provided the backbone to our national COVID-19 response.

In the North West, a team of engineers and scientists are developing an affordable and easy-to-use ventilator to help patients in low- and middle-income countries suffering from severe respiratory problems due to COVID-19. The project, which is co-ordinated by UKRI’s Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, aims to create a ventilator that does not rely so heavily on compressed gases and mains electricity supply, major limitations of using current ventilators in many places.

The North West’s biggest universities have also received significant UKRI funding. The University of Manchester is leading an international coalition to use mass spectrometry techniques to understand how COVID-19 presents in patients. Providing information at a molecular level about the virus, 500 scientists are refining testing approaches and treatment options, as well as speeding up the development of new treatments.

Researchers from the University of Salford are conducting a major study into the benefits system as it copes with an unprecedented wave of applications for Universal Credit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The evidence should help policy makers and practitioners to develop rapid solutions.

A study by the University of Liverpool aims to determine the public health cost of restricted access to arts and culture across the region during the pandemic. Researchers will gather views about the impact on public access, as well as the value and accessibility of alternative arts provision, such as online.

Professor Josie Billington from the University of Liverpool said, “Our funding from UKRI was integral to the development of our project. Our study aims to understand the mental health cost of restricted access to arts and culture in the Liverpool City Region, which has a strong history of harnessing arts for mental health care. We are also seeking to capture the successes and challenges of the alternative modes of arts and cultural provision initiated by the region’s creative sector.”  

Professor Charlotte Deane, COVID-19-Response Director at UKRI said, “Looking back over the past year, it’s clear that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on so many aspects of our lives, but I take more than a glimmer of hope from the extraordinary work being undertaken by researchers and businesses across the UK. These projects are just the tip of the iceberg. They show the tenacity and creativity of our research and innovation communities in the North West and beyond, who have stepped up in the most challenging of times to come together and fight back against this devastating disease.”

These projects are among 3,600 new COVID-19 projects, totalling over £554 million, being funded by UKRI across the country in response to Covid-19.

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