The prize recognises four leading scientists, whose ground-breaking COVID-19 research shaped national and international responses to the pandemic.
With financial support from Pfizer Limited, the Foundation’s 2021 prize awards a total of £400,000 to outstanding researchers from King’s, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford, who have all made a significant impact in the fight against COVID-19.
Scientists from across the world pivoted their research focus to help accelerate our understanding of COVID-19, its effects on the body, and how it can be diagnosed and treated. At record-breaking speed, medical research provided – and continues to provide - the answers to key questions about the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus, along with accurate testing methods, life-saving treatments, protective vaccinations, and policies to keep the most vulnerable safe.
Antibodies are an integral part of the body’s immune response to infections and studying how they respond to different viruses is essential in vaccine development. Research in this area has taken on even greater urgency in light of the pandemic.
This includes the research of Dr Katie Doores, Reader in Molecular Virology, who prior to the pandemic focused on understanding how our antibodies respond to lots of different emerging viruses, including HIV.
Within a matter of weeks, Dr Doores refocussed her work to study how our antibodies respond to COVID-19 infection, and more recently COVID-19 vaccination. Her team quickly measured activity of antibodies in the blood of those suffering from COVID-19, tracked the presence of antibodies in the first 10 months following infection, and monitored how new variants impacted the antibody response.
In collaboration with researchers around the country, my research has helped to evaluate and establish the use of lateral flow antibody testing, to help us understand severe COVID-19 disease, and monitor how people with pre-existing conditions like cancer and psoriasis respond to the vaccine.– Dr Katie Doores, from the School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences
She added: “Using this prize funding, I will set up two new research techniques in the lab to try and identify antibodies and vaccines that could give broad protection against multiple viruses. Not only is this important in COVID-19, but also in ensuring we are prepared for the next global pandemic – if and when it arises.”
Other winners of the prize are Dr Rosalind Eggo, Associate Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Dr Antonia Ho, Clinical Senior Lecturer, MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, and Dr Koen Pouwels, Senior Researcher, Health Economics Research Centre, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford.
Dr Angela Hind, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation, said: “We are proud to be supporting the next generation of research leaders to build on the knowledge and understanding of COVID-19. Investing in the careers of these outstanding scientists is helping to ensure we are better protected against emerging health threats, as and when they come our way.
“Due to the high quality of applicants and the extent of their impact during the pandemic, coupled with the financial support from Pfizer Limited, we are delighted to have been able to double the prize fund this year to allow for four joint 1st place prizes.”
Dr Berkeley Phillips, Medical Director at Pfizer UK, said: “Pfizer UK is proud to support the scientific leaders of tomorrow through this award. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the impact of high-quality research to critical public health decisions. We owe a debt of gratitude to our four winners who dedicated their skills and tenacity to make such an impact to so many. We look forward to seeing their continued impact in the coming years.”
Financial support towards the 2021 Emerging Leaders Prize on COVID-19 research was provided as a Charitable Donation from Pfizer Limited.