Researchers across King’s Health Partners have, and continue to, play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19.
Through the acceleration of scientific effort, we have gained a better understanding of the virus, developed new diagnostics and trials of possible treatments, and explored the pandemic’s long-term impact on physical and mental health.
We have ensured that discoveries are rapidly translated at a national and global level to support the collective response to COVID-19 and inform planning for future pandemics.
In early spring 2020, we paused many of our research programmes and continuous work to support the COVID-19 response. Research teams considered how their expertise and platforms could help support research into the virus, as well as how existing projects could be redirected. During this period, more than 200 clinical academics, management and non-clinical research and development staff from across King’s Health Partners, alongside all academic trainees, were deployed into clinical services.
Many laboratories and their teams have also been mobilized to increase mass testing capabilities in London.
Our partnership has led a significant amount of research into COVID-19, mobilised by internal and external investment, grants and philanthropic donations. Below is a list of some of the funding we have received:
- £2.3m from UKRI/National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for the Clinical Neuroscience Study which investigates COVID-19 patients with neurological or neuropsychiatric complications.
- £534,000 to understand and mitigate the psychosocial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on NHS staff in England.
- £321,000 on the intersections of ethnicity, gender, poverty and mental health in adolescence in the context of COVID-19.
- £511,000 for identifying and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on inequalities experienced by people from minority ethnic groups working in health and social care.
Better understanding the virus and identifying possible treatments
Our researchers have worked tireless to gain a better understanding of the virus and how to treat patients with COVID-19. For example, they:
- Uncovered how the immune system is altered in a rare COVID-19 related illness in children referred to as paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome.
- Published vital findings about the relationship between ethnic background and severity of COVID-19.
- Shown the possibility of diagnosing the virus using emergency scans intended to diagnose stroke.
- Investigated the possible cellular and genetic mechanisms behind the loss of smell in COVID-19 patients.
- Shown that smoking is associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 symptoms and smokers are more likely to attend hospital than non-smokers.
- Identified potential treatments for COVID-19 after the discovery of five genes associated with the most severe form of the disease. The study highlighted which existing types of drugs should be prioritised for COVID-19 treatment trials.
- Repurposed blood cancer drugs for patients with COVID-19.
- Co-led on a trial for new blood plasma treatment for COVID-19 involving blood plasma donations from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 for those who are severely ill with COVID-19.
- Conducted a trial to test a unique formulation of ibuprofen to treat COVID-19.
- Created new rapidly deployable and scalable low-cost mechanical ventilators.
Using technology and data science
Our use of technology and data science has accelerated scientific effort during the pandemic. The COVID-19 Symptom Tracker App was launched in March 2020 to provide major insights into COVID-19 symptoms and immunology. More than one and a half million people across the UK have now been recruited and the app continues to inform crucial research into the virus and help identify how fast it is spreading and who is most at risk. Users who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are also able to log this in the app. This has, and continues to, help build a picture of the real-world impact of the vaccine rollout and its effects on reducing transmission.
Our information retrieval and extraction platform, CogStack, also continues to track features of COVID-19, including patient survival, using big data.
Understanding the long-term impact of the pandemic
King’s Health Partners has sought to better understand the long-term impact of COVID-19. For example, we have been involved in the creation of the national, UK Research and Innovation funded, NHS CHECK study. This has established a cohort of more than 60,000 NHS staff to understand the short-medium and longer-term psycho-social impact of the pandemic. This is in addition to a separate King’s College London CHECK study which is looking at the effects of the pandemic on mental health, wellbeing and life and work, in an urban environment.
Our academics have also influenced the NIHR's Health Protection Research Unit, which has conducted rapid reviews, including into the harmful impact of quarantine on mental health.
Several of our key academics have played advisory or evidence-giving roles, influencing national policy,
via the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.
Existing clinical trials
To maintain support for patients already participating in clinical trials, we have changed our ways of working to ensure they remain safe. For example, by couriering medicines and using telephonic consultations rather than face to face appointments.
View our latest news to find out more about the King's Health Partners response to COVID-19.