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The MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC WIMM) is part of global efforts to tackle the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research centres around four main objectives.

Drawing of a person as an outline with lungs shown and representation of antibody and coronavirus particles surrounding them.

 The immune system is a double edged sword – it can help rid us of the infection but if it becomes overactive it can irreversibly damage the lung and other organs in the body. We want to understand how the immune system is activated to battle COVID-19 infection. This work is spearheaded by leading groups in the MRC Human Immunology Unit (HIU) led by Professors Alain Townsend, Ling-Pei Ho, Alexander Drakesmith and Tao Dong. Members of the late Professor Vincenzo Cerundolo’s group will be working with others within the University of Oxford to define the nature of the human immune cells that are activated following coronavirus infection. The work will help develop new treatments and help us understand why some patients might be more at risk than others.

 We are joining the local and national effort to develop vaccines against COVID-19 with research by the Townsend group in the HIU. Another line of investigation led by Professor Peter McHugh part of the Department of Oncology concerns identifying which viral proteins enable the virus to copy itself, with the aim of identifying inhibitors to these target proteins as a means to develop future treatments. We are also contributing to early clinical trials that will help identify new treatments. Professor Ling-Pei Ho leads the NIHR Translational Research Collaboration network and serves on the Urgent Public Health England group to prioritise the nation’s clinical trials.

 We want to better understand why some people develop more severe consequences due to COVID-19 than others. This effort is jointly being addressed by groups in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit (MHU), led by Professor Paresh Vyas, Professor Adam Mead and Dr Bethan Psaila, and those in the MRC HIU. They’re interested in questions such as whether the production of ageing blood determines more adverse outcomes to the infection, and if so, why?

 We are developing new faster and larger screening platforms that will help identify infected individuals in the population. This initiative is being approached by labs in the MRC MHU led by Professors Jim Hughes, James Davies and Adam Mead in collaboration with Nucleome Therapeutics in Oxford.

As of the 27th March 2020, the MRC WIMM has been closed and only essential work like the projects outlined here is continuing. We urge members of the University, City of Oxford and the UK to follow the Government message: Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

For more information on current national measures and guidance on what you need to do, please visit the Government coronavirus pages.

Find out more about the projects taking place in the MRC HIU.