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UCL reaches £1m fundraising milestone to tackle COVID-19

24 June 2020

Over £1m has been raised to drive UCL’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, made possible through generous donations from UCL’s supporters, alumni and friends.

The words 'Transform over change' overlaid on a petri dish

The funds will bolster UCL’s targeted COVID-19 research activity, including seed funding new projects, tackling emerging challenges stemming from the virus, and assisting UCL students in sudden financial hardship.

Meeting the challenge head-on

Of the total raised, over £500,000 has been donated in support of the UCL Coronavirus Response Fund. Established in March 2020, the Fund is being allocated across three broad areas to help manage and stop the virus:

  1. Treatment and cure, including COVID-19 sequencing and vaccine development
  2. Monitoring the virus and its impact, including tracking, testing and mitigating issues within healthcare systems
  3. Recovery and rebuilding, including managing the short and long-term impacts on daily lives, society and the economy 
I had always thought about giving back to UCL, but the urgency of COVID-19 made me step forward to do it now. As someone who worked in Asia and now lives in France, it’s reassuring to see UCL contribute to a much-needed global response and it makes me proud to have studied there.” Max Bittner, donor to the UCL Coronavirus Response Fund

Finding treatments and the cure

To move beyond social distancing measures, it is essential to sequence COVID-19 and develop a vaccine. Once a successful vaccine is found, it must then be manufactured in vast quantities and made affordable and accessible to have the necessary impact at a global scale. 

UCL is leading a number of transformational projects in this critical research area, such as:

  • Sequencing: Professor Judith Breuer’s (UCL Division of Infection & Immunity) research is tracking the spread of the virus through viral genome sequencing, as part of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium team. This work, which brings together the NHS, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and other academic and public health institutions, will inform public health planning.
  • Vaccine development: Vax-Hub, co-led by Professor Martina Micheletti (UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering) and Professor Sarah Gilbert (Jenner Institute, University of Oxford), is accelerating the manufacturing process for a COVID-19 vaccine. Work in this area will reduce the cost and complexity of a potential vaccine, ensuring it will be suitable for manufacturers in low and middle income countries to minimise worldwide fatalities.
This global pandemic presents us with unprecedented challenges, the likes of which we have not faced as a nation or global community for generations. But amongst the uncertainty is the clarity that UCL is doing everything in its power to find solutions to the challenges that COVID-19 brings, and at a pace that would, under normal circumstances, be considered impossible.” - Professor Geraint Rees, Dean, UCL Faculty of Life Sciences and UCL COVID-19 Response Lead

Monitoring the virus and its impact

Beyond developing a vaccine, we urgently need to understand how COVID-19 is spreading to answer key questions: Who is more at-risk? How can we best support frontline key workers? How do we ensure it’s safe for people to return to work?

UCL has established several projects to drive this research area:

  • Tracking: Virus Watch, led by Professor Andrew Hayward (UCL Epidemiology & Health Care), is investigating how COVID-19 spreads among communities and NHS workers to inform how governments should manage the pandemic. His work aims to show the prevalence of the virus in our communities, when it is likely to return, and if further lockdown measures should be triggered. 
  • BAME groups: Dr Rob Aldridge (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) is researching the effects of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. There is an urgent need to take action to reduce the risk of death from COVID-19 for BAME groups, who are more likely to die from the virus than the general population. 

Recovery and rebuilding

The effects of COVID-19 on society are already being felt: inequality has deepened, we are facing a significant global recession, and there are major concerns about how children will be affected by prolonged home-schooling. 

COVID-19 has also highlighted the urgent need to look at how we interact with the planet. The pandemic is inextricably linked to our relationship with the environment; if this relationship doesn’t change, more pandemics will ensue.

UCL is already undertaking crucial research into the long-term impact of the virus, to put society in a stronger position for when COVID-19 or the next epidemic emerges:

  • Wellbeing: Dr Daisy Fancourt (UCL Behavioural Science & Health) is leading a study of over 90,000 people to examine adults’ mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19. The study looks at the effects of social distancing on wellbeing, mapping how the effects change over time.
  • Social welfare: UCL’s Centre for Access to Justice continues to offer free legal advice on social welfare issues to ensure that vulnerable adults have a lifeline of support throughout the pandemic. 
  • Economic impact: UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose is equipping policymakers around the world with information to ensure appropriate economic responses to the pandemic are taken. The Institute is publishing a series of briefing papers on key global issues.

Tackling new challenges in healthcare as a result of COVID-19

Coronavirus has profoundly affected the treatment and care of patients dealing with new and long-term health issues, such as those living with cancer or recovering from brain injury and stroke. Additional funding for dedicated initiatives in these areas mean that researchers and clinicians at UCL have been able to address unexpected challenges and continue to provide excellent care during this time.

In partnership with SameYou, the charity set up by Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke, UCL is developing a virtual wellness and rehabilitation programme for brain injury and stroke patients who have been discharged from hospital because of COVID-19. Unprecedented demand for hospital beds and the increased risk of catching the virus in hospitals means many patients have been discharged earlier than they usually would. Led by Professor Nick Ward (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology), a team from the UCL Centre for Neurorehabilitation is working alongside the UCLH National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) to deliver care packages, recovery therapies and emotional support directly into the homes of patients.

Emilia Clarke said: “For people who’ve had brain injuries and strokes, rehabilitation and recovery is often the forgotten part of care – but it’s a vital part of recovery. At the moment patients who are leaving hospitals early, will be lost without the expert help and care of teams like those at UCL, which is why this virtual rehabilitation project could be so valuable.”

Providing urgent financial support for UCL students

UCL has provided an essential lifeline for students financially affected by the pandemic, enabled by generous donations to the UCL Emergency Assistance Fund. At a time when students have been unable to work, many have faced the unexpected costs of flights home, unplanned accommodation and additional study equipment to support online learning. The urgent need for financial support has been unprecedented. 

Our focus has been on assisting priority groups, such as students with children, particularly single parents, students from low-income families and students with disabilities. Thanks in part to our generous donors, more than 1,400 students have been supported since the start of the pandemic.

We continue to listen to the needs and concerns of our students, and are evolving our support mechanisms in step with their emerging needs. In response we are launching an enhanced programme of targeted bursaries to provide critical financial support for the upcoming academic year, for students from underrepresented communities.

The transformational role of philanthropy

UCL has been involved in all aspects of the COVID-19 crisis since its outbreak. The support of our donors has enabled UCL’s exceptional researchers on all fronts to help lead the global effort.

“Santander is committed to supporting higher education as well as local communities across the UK so we’re pleased that our funding is able to be redirected to where it is most needed at this critical time. Universities are doing some fantastic work to contribute to the UK’s effort to combat the outbreak of COVID-19, so we’re delighted to collaborate with UCL in a way which increases their response effort and look forward to continuing to work with them on supporting both students and the broader higher education community with further initiatives over the coming months.” - Matt Hutnell, Director, Santander Universities UK

Philanthropy is inherently responsive and agile, and often provides us with the freedom to embark upon those high-risk high-reward projects that traditional funding methods can’t easily support. It is through such generosity that UCL will find vital solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, and work at the scale and speed that this global emergency demands.

To support our efforts, please donate to the UCL Coronavirus Response Fund. To discuss making a philanthropic investment to UCL’s Coronavirus response, or one of the areas outlined above, please contact Oliver Day, Head of Alumni & Supporter Care, at ollie.day@ucl.ac.uk.

To find out more about the world-impacting research that is taking place at UCL as part of the It’s All Academic philanthropic and engagement campaign, visit the Campaign website.

To find out more about UCL’s response to COVID-19, read about COVID-19 research at UCL.