Both the UK and India have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. DBT and UKRI have made significant rapid investments in COVID-19 research in 2020 to intervene and further our understanding of this disease.
In recognition of the strong links between the UK and India, with the UK-Indian diaspora making up the largest ethnic minority group in the UK, DBT and UKRI have identified a unique opportunity to jointly support research focussed on mitigating the severity of COVID-19 in South Asian/Indian populations, through the study of related ethnic groups in different environments.
In the UK, emerging evidence shows that, after taking account of age and other sociodemographic factors, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than White people. The rates of COVID-19 mortality among males of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian origin is far greater than those for similar White males.
The UK government and the UKRI COVID-19 Research and Innovation taskforce have prioritised research into understanding and addressing the unexplained increased mortality rates experienced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
There is an urgent need for more detailed data on why COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK, building the essential evidence base needed to make recommendations to decision makers and protect the health of these groups.
In July, MRC and the National Institute for Health Research announced the funding of six new projects to improve our understanding of the links between COVID-19 and ethnicity.
In November, ESRC will announce further projects to understand the reasons underpinning the vulnerability of minority ethnic groups to COVID-19.
In early September 2020, India became the country with the second highest number of cases in the world. India has a unique transmission dynamic due to early government nationwide lockdown interventions followed by a series of relaxations during a five-phase “unlock”.
As of early October 2020, the COVID-19 mortality rate in India is around 1.6%. A similar trend has been observed in neighbouring South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, with COVID-19 mortality rates of 2.1%, 0.6%, 1.4%, and 0.4%, respectively.
The death rates in India appear proportionately lower than in the UK. It is important to understand the relevant underlying factors. Age, sex and pre-existing medical conditions have already been established as predictors of adverse COVID-19 outcomes, but the role of social and other environmental factors, as well as ethnicity, are less well understood.
The funders share the view that it is now timely to pool resources, and bring together the necessary funds and expertise, in order to support research that will underpin efforts to tackle the severity of the pandemic in the UK and India.
Through the UK-India COVID-19 partnership initiative, the funders aim to:
- support world-leading collaborative research teams focussed on mitigating the severity of COVID-19 in south Asian populations in the UK and India
- enhance existing partnerships and develop new partnerships between the UK and India in efforts to address COVID-19
- strengthen the strategic relationship between the UK and India.
DBT and COVID-19
DBT has played a proactive role in fighting the mammoth challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the research and innovation of interventions. The department has supported numerous activities for detection, understanding, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19.
The PAN-India 1000 SARS-CoV-2 RNA Genome sequencing initiative has created a comprehensive resource for researchers to understand the genetic underpinnings of the viral strains circulating in India.
The department has taken a lead in establishing 5 COVID-19 repositories with large collections of patient samples (with well-annotated clinical and pathological data) to foster biomedical research on COVID-19 and to develop various treatment strategies.
While planning research under this call, we strongly encourage the research groups to make use of these crucial resources available to further the understanding of the disease.
Collaboration agreement, ethics and intellectual property
As the research projects will be carried out by multiple research organisations and project partners, the basis of collaboration between the organisations and project partners, including ownership of intellectual property (IP) generated during the project and rights to exploitation, and costs of IP management (this is not an eligible (direct) cost to MRC UKRI or DBT), is expected to be set out in a formal collaboration agreement between the research organisations involved.
It is the responsibility of the research organisations to put such an agreement in place within three months of the start of the UK component of the project.
The terms of collaboration shall not conflict with MRC and DBT terms and conditions. When collaborating, researchers must conform to their respective, applicable requirements on research involving humans and animals.
The funders do not require ethics permissions and regulatory approvals to be in place when an application is submitted. However, Indian principal investigators of the consortium should apply to their institutional review boards or institutional ethics committees at the time of submission of proposal to obtain necessary ethics approvals from all involved institutions.
If an application is successful, these approvals must be submitted in a stipulated time to accomplish required administrative diligence.
It is the responsibility of the host institutions to ensure that the appropriate ethics approval(s) has been obtained (in both the UK and India) and that no research requiring such approval is initiated before it has been granted.
It will be necessary for each funded group to submit reports to DBT and MRC in accordance with the respective regulations.
Data produced as a result of this funding will need to be shared in line with the joint statement on sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak.