CO-CONNECT: enabling research on COVID-19 immunity

A new multi-million pound research project CO-CONNECT will help scientists across the UK to access the data they need to help develop potential therapies, and treatment for COVID-19. Experts from the Universities of Nottingham, Dundee and Edinburgh, along with Public Health England are working together to coordinate research into the COVID-19 antibody response, by connecting COVID-19 data derived from patient blood samples.

CO-CONNECT will help researchers to answer fundamental questions around how immunity may help prevent future spread of the virus in schools and workplaces, how best to treat it in hospitals and generally how long immunity lasts.

Why health and care data matters to me - Philip Quinlan

Philip Quinlan, Head of Digital Research Service at the University of Nottingham, and Associate Director in HDR UK.

“We’re all aware of the devastation the pandemic has caused, millions of deaths globally, severely strained health systems and damaged economies across the world. At this stage, with the government’s roadmap outlining the easing of lock down restrictions, I think it's really important we understand who’s immune and to what level. This is vital to protect vulnerable individuals, to safely scale back population based interventions and for managing disease transmission.

“The pandemic has provided us with a wealth of information which can help answer these key questions. It’s been collected across the UK by a range of research groups and within clinical primary (such as GP surgeries) and secondary care settings (such as hospitals). The downside is that the fragmented landscape of data means it can be challenging for public health groups and researchers to find and access the high quality data they need at pace.

“As this is a new disease, the standards for antibody data capture are still new. So some of the details needed to answer key questions with regard to the virus aren’t being gathered in a standard way, which allows reuse for a range of research questions.

“I’m really excited to be involved in bringing together the best of the UK’s data assets into an accessible format. CO-CONNECT (COvid - Curated and Open aNalysis aNd rEsearCh platform) ensures leading researchers have access to the most up to date data and at the scale required to give definitive answers to some of the most significant questions. This new 18-month project aims to ensure the same standards are applied to all data to make the data comparable and usable in research. It will provide researchers with a streamlined, automated infrastructure to assist with work into developing potential therapies and treatments for the disease. Data from CO-CONNECT will be directly integrated into HDR UK’s Innovation Gateway and will be available to the UK research community, allowing it to be used more widely to support further research projects; and generate more insights that will improve healthcare. The system protects patient confidentiality and data security, supporting federated anonymised data analysis.

“This is a phenomenal project and opportunity to excel in this field of research and I’m really grateful to all the leading organisations which came together to make it possible. Data collaboration of this kind and at this scale, demonstrates how data access and sharing is at the forefront of saving lives.”