In the latest ongoing efforts to protect the UK’s healthcare system against the potentially devastating effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus), The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have awarded £10.5 million of funding to six new research projects on developing and testing vaccines and therapies for the novel virus.

The former has revealed that one of the projects will investigate potential vaccines, and could begin as early as June.

Another of the funded projects will develop manufacturing processes to produce a vaccine at a million-dose scale, meaning that if the clinical trials are a success, a vaccine would be available to high-risk groups as early as possible.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “In the midst of a global health emergency the UK is using all its extensive research expertise to quickly develop new vaccines to target this international threat,”

Continuing to say that this investment will “speed up globally recognised vaccine development capabilities and help us find a new defence against this disease.”

The investment by UKRI and NIHR, part of the first round of a £20 million rapid funding call for COVID-19 research, supports the government’s four phase approach to contain, delay, mitigate, and research the coronavirus and disease it causes.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer and NIHR lead, also commented: “The world faces an unprecedented challenge in our efforts to tackle the spread of COVID-19. It is vital we harness our research capabilities to the fullest extent to limit the outbreak and protect life.

“Alongside the world-leading research overseen by the NIHR, these new six projects will allow us to boost our existing knowledge and test new and innovative ways to understand and treat the disease.”

As well as the additional funding from the NIHR, the NHS is set to receive millions more items of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline staff.

The health service says that hospitals, ambulance trusts, GP practices, pharmacists, care homes and hospices have all been receiving additional supplies over the past week, sourced by the Department of Health and Social Care and its suppliers, with the kit drops set to continue to match demand.

NHS England has confirmed that over the last three days alone more than 200 organisations, including all NHS hospitals, received fresh supplies of facemasks and other PPE along with ambulance trusts and other NHS organisations, including 2.6 million face masks and 10,000 sanitisers for trusts in London.

Further, from this week the army will play its part by offering service personnel to help to manage and offload supplies in busy NHS settings, helping to distribute and deliver urgent contractor PPE supplies to the frontline during the epidemic.

Professor Keith Willett, medical director for Acute Care & Emergency Preparedness, for NHS England, said: “The NHS is now having to use high quantities of equipment to protect staff and combat the virus as it spreads, and hospitals are now receiving substantial extra deliveries to meet their needs.

“The full weight of the Government is behind this to ensure supplies we need across the NHS are procured and delivered to replenish hospital, ambulance and community stocks.”

The national stockpile reserved for pandemic influenza has been released for use across the board and DHSC determine that there is currently an adequate national supply of vital protective equipment if used in line with PHE’s recommendations.