The UK has given £18.5m in funding to support long-COVID research projects to better understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment.
The funding has gone towards four research studies that will seek to understand and address the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on both physical and mental health, as well as to identify the causes of long-COVID and effective therapies to treat people who experience chronic symptoms of the disease.
Long-COVID can present with a variety of symptoms that are often overlapping and/or fluctuating, with a systematic review having highlighted 55 different long-term effects. Common symptoms of long-COVID include breathlessness, headaches, cough, fatigue, and cognitive impairment or ‘brain fog’. There is also emerging evidence that some people experience organ damage.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said: “I am acutely aware of the lasting and debilitating impact long COVID can have on people of all ages, irrespective of the extent of the initial symptoms. Fatigue, headaches, and breathlessness can affect people for months after their COVID-19 infection regardless of whether they required hospital admission initially.
“In order to effectively help these individuals, we need to better understand long COVID and identify therapeutics that can help recovery. This funding will kick-start 4 ambitious projects to do just that.”
The four studies that have been recommended for funding include REACT long-COVID (REACT-LC) which will receive £5.4m over three years, which will seek to understand why some people get long-COVID and others do not, and The TLC Study which will receive – £2.3m over two years and which will seek to identify which treatments are most likely to benefit people with symptoms of long-COVID and test supportive treatments to improve their quality of life.
Thirdly, the ‘Characterisation, determinants, mechanisms, and consequences of the long-term effects of COVID-19: providing the evidence base for health care services’ study will receive £9.6 million over three years and will seek to define long-COVID and improve diagnosis, as well as explain why some people get the condition, the typical effects on a person’s health and ability to work, and the factors that affect recovery to inform the development of treatments offered to patients. Finally, the The CLoCk Study will receive £1.4m over three years and will seek to understand more about long-COVID among children, how it can be diagnosed, and how to treat it.
Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI, said: “There is increasing medical evidence and patient testimony showing that a significant minority of people who contract COVID suffer chronic symptoms for months after initially falling ill, irrespective of whether they were hospitalised. These four large-scale projects will work with affected individuals to better understand and address these debilitating long-term impacts.”
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued official guidance on best practice for recognising, investigating and rehabilitating patients with long COVID.