The UK government has announced it will provide £18.5m to fund research projects aimed at improving understanding of the causes and effects of the longer term effects of COVID-19 – known as long COVID.

The funding will go towards four studies, which will seek to identify the causes of long COVID and effective therapies for the treatment of people who experience chronic symptoms following COVID-19 infection.

An independent panel of experts and long COVID patients recommended the four studies to receive funding.

This includes the ‘REACT long COVID (REACT-LC)’, which involves people in the community who have taken part in the REACT study of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

It will analyse data to find common factors to examine why some people develop long COVID and others do not.

The second study to receive funding is the ‘Therapies for long COVID in non-hospitalised individuals: from symptoms, patient-reported outcomes and immunology to targeted therapies’ (The TLC Study).

This study is aiming to identify the most beneficial treatments for people with particular symptoms of long COVID.

Another study, ‘Characterisation, determinants, mechanisms and consequences of the long-term effects of COVID-19: providing the evidence base for health care services’, will use data from over 60,000 people to help define long COVID and improve diagnosis.

The last study to receive funding is the ‘Non-hospitalised children and young people with long COVID (The CLoCk Study)’, which will help to improve understanding of long COVID among children, as well as how it can be diagnosed and treated.

Each research project was selected after a UK-wide call to identify ‘ambitious and comprehensive’ research programmes, that are aiming to address the physical and mental health effects of COVID-19 in people experiencing longer term symptoms.

Approximately one in ten people with COVID-19 will continue to experience symptoms and impaired quality of life after 12 weeks.

A systemic review has identified 55 individual long-term effects of long COVID, although common symptoms include breathlessness, headaches, cough, fatigue and cognitive impairment.

“Good research is absolutely pivotal in understanding, diagnosing and then treating any illness, to ease symptoms and ultimately improve lives,” said Chris Whitty, chief medical officer of England and head of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

“This research, jointly funded through the NIHR and UKRI, will increase our knowledge of how and why the virus causes some people to suffer long term effects following a COVID-19 infection – and will be an important tool in developing more effective treatments for patients,” he added.