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Report reveals impact of COVID-19 research and innovation funding

A new independent report released yesterday by UKRI underscores the pivotal role played by UK researchers and innovators in tackling the pandemic.

Conducted by Technopolis, the report ‘Impact evaluation of UKRI’s research and innovation funding response to COVID-19‘ unpicks how publicly funded research across the spectrum helped to shape government decision making, ease the impact of the pandemic and ultimately save lives. Research ranged from medicine to engineering, social science and the arts.

Long-term investment

In a series of recommendations, the report also emphasises how decades of strategic research and innovation investment prior to the pandemic, in infrastructure, capacity and international cooperation, underpinned the UK’s response.

Without this continued sustained investment, the report suggests the UK risks being left significantly vulnerable to future pandemics and other shocks.

As the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) was one of the first public bodies to launch research funding opportunities to investigate COVID-19 in early 2020.

Over the course of the pandemic UKRI funded around 1,200 awards with a value of more than half a billion pounds,

This investment represented value for money for the taxpayer, according to the independent report findings.

Key findings from the report

Vaccine pioneers

The report celebrates the record-breaking development of the Oxford, AstraZeneca vaccine in under a year. This was funded with taxpayers’ money including through UKRI and underpinned by years of prior UKRI-supported research on vaccines, including those for Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Life-saving therapies

The discovery of arthritis drug dexamethasone as a treatment for COVID-19, has saved the lives of more than one million people globally. It was made by British researchers funded by UKRI with the National Institute of Health Research.

Shaping government interventions

Advice from our researchers guided and shaped schemes such as furlough and the gradual lifting of restrictions, estimated to have saved up to 100,000 lives and prevented 300,000 hospital admissions.

UK research insights and data on transmission and variants become vital tools to track and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Cutting edge technologies

Researchers and innovators harnessed state-of-the-art technologies to revolutionise the way COVID-19 was identified, tracked and diagnosed. From the detection of COVID-19 in our sewers to the design of rapid tests.

Data powerhouse

For the first time, NHS records were linked with demographic information, giving an unprecedented insight into the spread and unequal impacts of the disease across the UK.

This work, spearheaded by UKRI funding, was vital in shaping public health policies and interventions.

Firm foundations

The pandemic response was underpinned by an outstanding UK research and innovation community, collaborating together internationally and supported by a strong research infrastructure.

A collective effort

Dr Jonathan Pearce, Director of Strategy and Planning at UKRI’s Medical Research Council said:

This report shows that the UK directed more of its research and innovation activity to COVID-19 than any other country. That work also had more measurable impact than in any other country.

This was enabled by a team effort, across UKRI and working in partnership across government and with the research and innovation community.

We’re not complacent though. COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared from our lives. UKRI will continue to support our collective effort to monitor new variants, track spread and address pandemic impacts, including in Long-COVID.

We also need to look to the future, learning the lessons the pandemic has taught us and provide the sustainable long term investment that will empower our sector to be even better prepared and ready to step up to the mark, should we be hit by another pandemic or other shock.

Report recommendations

The report recommended:

  • UK government support UKRI in its longstanding commitment to invest at scale in public research and innovation.
  • UKRI upgrade research information systems to allow a more rapid emergency response
  • UKRI continue its efforts to facilitate the sharing of clinical and other administrative data for future emergency-research
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