Critical Covid-19 reagent supply project among recipients of €5m funding

29 Apr 2020475 Views

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26 research projects in Ireland are to receive a total of €5m in funding to help find vital solutions to the Covid-19 emergency.

Last month, a number of State bodies announced the Rapid Response Research, Development and Innovation programme to fund urgent research into Covid-19. This aims to find ways to better understand the disease, and to treat and prevent it in the months and years ahead.

Now, today (29 April) it has been announced that 26 projects will receive a total of €5m in funding under the programme, addressing key areas such as frontline healthcare, diagnostics, infection control and contact tracing. It will also examine mental health, potential treatments and management of the mitigation measures related to social distancing and isolation.

The programme was established by the Health Research Board, Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. All funded projects have been internationally peer reviewed, and a full list of the awardees can be found here.

15,000 tests per day

The largest recipient of funding is a project led by Prof Gil Lee, Prof Virginie Gautier and Prof Patrick Mallon of University College Dublin, which is receiving €540,263. The project’s goal is to create a secure, reliable supply of high-quality reagents to enable large-scale testing and genetic tracking of Covid-19 in Ireland.

The project will immediately provide reagents and materials for 40,000 Covid-19 tests for hospitals in the east of Ireland, but will increase this over time so that it is possible to enable 15,000 tests per day.

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“This award will allow a world-class, multi-disciplinary team of biomedical researchers to develop a local source of nanoparticles, buffers and advanced magnet separation devices to ensure that the RNA genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be isolated and detected to support the Irish healthcare system,” Mallon said.

“Unlike the systems currently in place in Ireland, this system is not automated, which means that it is more flexible and not tied to a specific piece of plastic or reagent. It will allow teams of clinical scientists to provide up to 15pc of Ireland’s RNA diagnostics.”

More projects to be announced

Other notable projects include the Data Platform for Emergency Response Management (DPERM) project led by Prof Tim McCarthy of Maynooth University. With €402,323 in funding, McCarthy’s team will use information from satellites, drones and other sources to derive activity metrics relating to human movement and interaction in public spaces.

McCarthy said: “The overall aim here is to … devise a set of geospatial metrics on how public amenity sites are used in order to support local authorities and government agencies in loosening-up Covid-19 social-distancing restrictions and help kick-start the gradual, responsible return to normal everyday life.”

Commenting on the funding announcement, SFI’s director general, Prof Mark Ferguson, said: “We are living in unprecedented times as we respond to the challenges presented by Covid-19 at a national and global level. Research and innovation can deliver the solution to many of the challenging issues we face.

“Today we are announcing the first round of funding for research and innovation projects in areas such as frontline healthcare, diagnostics, infection control, contact tracing, potential treatments, with more projects to be announced over the coming weeks.”

Colm Gorey is a senior journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com