COVID-19 updates

Working for your research - Message from Stephen Simpson, Director of Research, Versus Arthritis

Updated 12 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact us all professionally and personally, on people with arthritis, our research and our researchers. We would like to acknowledge the ongoing efforts of researchers, clinicians and scientists who have done an incredible job in responding to COVID-19 by working in front line care, in COVID-19 testing labs, and those pursuing innovative COVID-19-related research. But equally, thank you for sustaining your efforts towards helping us meet the challenges of arthritis and related conditions.

Over recent months, we’ve been listening to your questions and concerns and I would like to emphasise again that we are here to support you and work with you through these difficult times. Please stay in touch with us.

Impact on your current research

We understand you may still have questions about additional support, or other impacts to your award. In the first instance we hope our FAQs for researchers (PDF, 136 KB) are of some value and we would be happy to talk with you if you still have questions.

As we move towards a period of restart for research and clinical studies, we are working with universities and host institutions to do what we can to help ensure this is done safely and is done well for your research. Please do contact your Versus Arthritis Award Team at any stage to update us about any changes to your activity or with concerns you may have.

New research funding

Although we have re-scheduled and delayed some of our research calls, we do remain committed to funding key research in the best way we can, in addition to sustaining our existing research commitments and we have a number of our fellowship rounds open. There is a great deal of current discussion between funders and other stakeholders about the need to maintain support particularly for our early stage careers, and this was highlighted recently at a virtual forum we participated in, hosted by the Academy of Medical Sciences. We also continue to look at this important issue through our Fellowship Expert Group which now has a new chair, Professor Gretl McHugh from Leeds University.

Current active calls (for more information please visit our types of grant page):

  • PhD Scholarships
  • Senior Research Fellowships
  • Career Development Fellowships
  • Starter grants for clinical lecturers
  • MRC/Versus Arthritis Clinician Scientist Fellowship (in partnership)
  • APDP: Advanced Pain Discovery Platform – multidisciplinary consortia for data generation.

We're delighted to have been able to support a small number of COVID-19 related studies and we remain interested in hearing from the community about how you and your research may address the impact of COVID-19 on musculoskeletal diseases. Please get in touch with research@versusarthritis.org if you’d like to discuss your ideas with us.

We are also working on a new call for projects under our new alliance with NIHR for experimental and translational medicine – the Translational Research Collaboration so please keep your eyes peeled on the website for pre-call announcement of this later in August. Our partnership to unpack the complexity of chronic pain with MRC, Lilly and other UKRI Research Councils (APDP) progresses well and the call is open for expressions of interest.

Working across the sector to support you

We continue speak on behalf of our research community: working with other organisations such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and supporting the really important work the Association for Medical Research Charities (AMRC) continues to do on behalf of all medical research charities. For example, we have provided evidence to demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 on research activity, and through AMRC have lobbied government for additional support. We have also given support to initiatives including the Life Sciences Recovery Roadmap, the NIHR Clinical Research Restart Framework and the Life Sciences Charity Partnership Fund. We continue to engage widely with stakeholders to raise awareness of issues facing the medical research community and to advocate for the unique and distinctive contributions that charity research can bring to economic and social recovery post-COVID-19.

The UK Government recently published its UK R&D Roadmap to set out the UK’s vision and ambition for science, research and innovation, and has invited stakeholders across UK R&D to join a conversation to test the detail. Versus Arthritis continues to work with others in the charitable sector to contribute evidence, learning and best practice to this and other Government consultations which address future funding for research and innovation.

Looking to the future

Versus Arthritis recently launched it’s Impossible to Ignore campaign, striving to put the needs of people with arthritis on the recovery planning agenda of UK governments.

Now more than ever we need a cohesive and powerful research community to push back against arthritis. As some of us take time to regroup over the summer, I hope we will all come back together in the Autumn a little more refreshed after the challenges of the last few months. I would really like Versus Arthritis to play a part in keeping our wonderful community of researchers together and we are looking at virtual events that would allow you all to connect and share support and ideas. As always, we are very interested in your ideas about how we might do this, so please get in touch with us at research@versusarthritis.org.

Keeping Research Connected webinars

This month we hosted our first Keeping Research Connected webinars, which brought over 200 people together to share updates on the impact and response we are seeing as a result of COVID-19.

This included how our research and wider charity activities are being affected and how the research sector as a whole has been impacted by COVID-19. As well as sharing the challenges we are facing, we celebrated some examples of the remarkable innovation and adaption that we are seeing in our research community and in our charity.

If you missed it, you can watch it here...

You can also view the presentation slides separate here (PDF, 858 KB), and find answers to questions submitted to the Q&A session here (PDF, 148 KB).

We would like to continue to tell the story of how our community is adapting to this pandemic – your experiences really strengthen our fundraising, communication and advocacy work. Please share your COVID-19 stories with us, so that we can highlight what you are doing. We also welcome feedback and ideas for future events. You can get in touch with us at researchliaison@versusarthritis.org.

Support for COVID-19 global registries

At the moment, little is known about how patients with rheumatic diseases or autoimmune conditions, many of whom use medications and drugs that suppress the immune system, are affected by COVID-19. To address this and inform care, Versus Arthritis is asking for participation and promotion of two global COVID-19 initiatives:

  1. The COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Registry, is a tool for rheumatology healthcare providers to enter data about their patients, reporting any and all cases of COVID-19 in rheumatology patients, including those with mild or no symptoms. Practitioners in the UK should enter details for ADULT and PAEDIATRIC patients in the EULAR - COVID-19 Database which is linked to the global registry. This global approach allows for a mass collection and sharing of anonymised data across the globe. This will help guide rheumatologists and other clinicians such as specialist nurses in advising and caring for their patients and in evaluating the risk of infection in patients on immunosuppression.
  2. A European patient registry has been launched. Anyone (adults or parents of a child) with a rheumatological, autoimmune or autoinflammatory disease is invited to take part. Participants will be asked a series of questions and sent follow-up surveys each week to learn how COVID-19 may affect them. It’s hoped the information gathered in this registry can inform the way that doctors manage and treat patients with rheumatic diseases with COVID-19 infections. It is hosted by Juvenile Arthritis Research.

The initiatives are both part of the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, a new organisation that was rapidly formed in response to the global COVID–19 pandemic (established March 12, 2020).

For any further enquiries, please contact enquiries@versusarthritis.org.

COVID-19 - Message from Stephen Simpson, Director of Research, Versus Arthritis

Updated 31 March 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is an issue for us all professionally and personally. This is a major public health emergency that the Government is having to respond to, and all efforts need to be deployed to stem the spread of the virus.

We know that it will have a serious impact on people with arthritis, our research and our researchers. We are committed to working with our communities to find the best possible solutions for us all.

We want to be as flexible and supportive as possible and understand this time of uncertainty will have a significant impact on the research we fund, as well as the health and well being of our researchers, health care professionals and participants in research.

We're working together with other organisations such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Association for Medical Research Charities (AMRC) to find the best ways we can come together and support medical research now and in the future.

We know that you will have significant challenges in the coming months. Our research community will be called upon to provide essential front-line NHS services. Similarly, scientists, pharmacists and lab technicians could be required to support the effort.

We're fully aware that clinical research has slowed or halted, and we know that many universities have entered or are actively considering a shutdown.

We recognise that as a result, research projects may temporarily pause or even potentially close down as a result of the impacts of COVID-19.

There are some specific issues relating to this that we would like to provide guidance on:

Current research

  • The decision to pause or close-down any research will be a local decision to be made by the chief/principal investigator and the sponsor. We will support any local decision to move personnel to front line duties and will work with teams after the crisis to explore ways for research projects to be reinstated.
  • We're recommending that any clinical research in particular, that has been recently awarded but not yet started, delay the start date to adjust to the possibility of not being able to recruit.
  • Where individuals working on research projects become unwell or need to self-isolate, we will follow the employing organisation’s own policy, in line with your Conditions of Award.
  • We will be flexible on the use of underspend and budget virements to cover any exceptional and additional cost incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic to keep your research activities going.
  • Our position is to offer no-cost extensions to your award if needed. Please follow process in Grant Tracker.
  • Where costed extensions are necessary, these will be considered on a case by case basis as required.

New funding activity

This is an incredibly testing time for all our academic and NHS colleagues. In order to support the mobilisation of crucial staff and avoiding disruption to the work of other key staff and peer reviewers, we have made the difficult decision to pause our current open calls and any future planned activity, including planned peer review of active calls.

Currently, we are planning on re-starting calls later this year. This position will be frequently reviewed as the national situation evolves.

Current active calls

  • Clinical Research Fellowships
  • Foundations Fellowships
  • Medical Technologies

Planned calls affected

  • Senior Research Fellowships
  • Career Development Fellowships
  • Priming Confidence and Creativity in New Research
  • Portfolio Development Fund

For our planned work with the Medical Research Council (MRC) around the upcoming Advanced Pain Discovery Platform call for new consortia, we are continuing to work with colleagues at MRC on the progression for this call. Pre-call information on the consortia call can be found here and revised opening and closing dates for this call will be available soon.

Travel awards

Changes have been made to the fees charged by UK train operating companies when exchanging an advance ticket with an initial travel date until the end of April 2020.

If you have made arrangements to travel to conferences which have been cancelled and a refund is not possible, we will honour the cost of the travel.

Support from Versus Arthritis

Our team are continuing to work from home to support you. If it's possible. please contact your Versus Arthritis Award Team to update us about any changes to your activity or with concerns you may have.

For general enquiries about our research please contact research@versusarthritis.org.

Here is a list of frequently asked questions about the impact of coronavirus on Versus Arthritis Research (PDF, 136 KB).