COVID-19 research rapid response group

The University of Manchester has established a COVID-19 research rapid response group to work with partners on the coronavirus crisis.

Through the group, scientists in our Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health are working with NHS colleagues from Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group, supported by Health Innovation Manchester, and utilising our experimental and translational research expertise through the NHIR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility.

This brings together the research and innovation strengths of our partnerships in an unprecedented way to focus on this public health crisis. Our aims are to minimise lives lost nationally and globally, and reduce the impact of the pandemic on Greater Manchester’s health and social care system and the wider community.

The group’s work is focusing on a number of key priorities:

New treatments/clinical trials

We will play a full part in the leadership, coordination and execution of clinical trials. These are focused on new therapies aimed at improving clinical outcomes and are employing a range of therapies including antivirals, anti-inflammatory agents and other novel intensive care modalities.

Our partnership is seeking opportunities to fund additional new trials and we are developing protocols in Greater Manchester for new therapies, informed by our previous research in other contexts where a 'hyper-immune' response has been observed.

Example project:

Disease mechanisms

Our world-leading virology and inflammation/immunology teams, including members of our Lydia Becker Institute of Immunology and Inflammation, are working actively to study patients in real-time in order to better understand the mechanisms by which this virus causes severe reactions particularly in the lungs. Such work will suggest new treatment approaches which we can then test.

Example project;

Disease modelling and health informatics

Our expertise in data science, mathematics and computer modelling is being harnessed to help identify and track patients with symptoms to identify those who are deteriorating and who need more intensive interventions at an earlier stage. 

This collaboration, between the University and NHS trusts, will use routinely collected patient data updated throughout the day to allow early escalation of patients to more active treatment.

Example project:

Epidemiology, mental health, social care and public health

Our public health and applied health researchers are working on developing and evaluating ways to relieve the pressure that the NHS and social care systems. Such work requires close cooperation between the local authorities, public health teams and the NHS.

Our leadership in this area will enable evaluation of any new approaches from which we can draw lessons for future outbreaks and more efficient deployment of health and social care facilities.

Example project:

Patients with existing health conditions

Many patients with pre-existing diseases who are on treatments that suppress their immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the more severe complications of COVID-19. Our researchers are leading on European and global efforts to track these patients.

By doing so we will be able to provide more person-centred advice about management of their background condition and treatment during such outbreaks. 

Example project:


Our partnership is working closely with major industry partners to develop and deploy rapid diagnosis testing platforms to scale up for mass, widespread testing during this acute outbreak. 

Example project:


We are in discussions with manufacturers who are developing vaccines to prevent COVID-19. The Greater Manchester partnership has experience of deploying clinical trials at large scale within the community – for example, the recent Salford Lung Study. This approach and population-based tracking of patients will help support rapid recruitment and read out of results for any future vaccination trials so that these vaccines can be in use as soon as possible.

Organisational development and decision making

Our expertise in the Faculty of Humanities in strategic management, behavioural science, organisational psychology, data science, mathematics, and computer modelling is being harnessed to enhance organisational decision processes pertaining to the efficient and effective configuration and deployment of (scarce) resources in the management of the pandemic.

Our aims are to help ensure that decision making teams and individual decision makers at all levels are operating with the best possible situation awareness, minimising potential biases and managing effectively information flows, amid varying levels of stress and cognitive load.    

Example project:

Global health

An estimated two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population live in informal settlements (or slums) associated with over-crowding, lack of adequate water supply and poor environmental hygiene. If viral biology remains constant, the transmission rates for COVID-19 are likely to be significantly greater in these settlements than what has been witnessed in Europe. In addition, the prevalence of chronic lung diseases, poor oral hygiene, environmental dust and environmental pollution increase the prevalence of chronic cough in these settlements making the transmission of respiratory viral diseases (via air-borne macro and micro respiratory droplets) potentially several fold greater. In this context, the presumed benefits of face coverings or masks (along with suitable educational packages supporting correct use/maintenance) within the wider community to reduce viral transmission is likely to be more apparent if tested within these settings. 

Within our global health response to the current pandemic we have launched a study aimed at: 

  1. Defining and mitigating the socio-cultural impediments that prevent widespread use of face masks in three informal settlements in Kenya and evaluate its impact on the incidence of new infections and hospitalisation.
  2. Creating a suitable sociological framework and network to understand and mitigate the knowledge gaps, concerns and cultural impediments that may exist within these informal settlements on the proper use of face masks.
  3. Defining the optimal design of face masks (material, impregnated fabric, multi-layered design and reusability) to gain acceptance and universal adoption of face masks. In this respect we intend to apply lessons learnt from the use of impregnated mosquito nets to control malaria.
  4. Using information technology (such as Geographical Information Systems and mobile digital technology platforms) to understand the spread of disease within and beyond these settlements and contact tracing. 

This project is unique in that it brings together investigators from Kenya with colleagues from all three Faculties of The University of Manchester. The first phase of the study is being funded by the GCRF WR Funds allocated to The University of Manchester.

Example project:

Read a press release about the group's work.