Where we started
The COVID Symptom Study app launched at the end of March after a sleepless week of engineering during the height of the pandemic, and to be honest we thought it might have been handed over to the NHS after just a few weeks. But we are still here four months on, with a much bigger and more important study than we had expected, so we thought this might be a good opportunity to take stock. In this blog, we want to take a moment to reflect on what’s been achieved, explain how your financial support has helped, and our plans for the future which include discussions with the government to help fund part of the study.
The COVID Symptom Study is a not for profit collaboration between healthcare science company ZOE and scientists at King’s College London (KCL), and we also have important input from researchers in Lund University, Sweden and Harvard University, USA, as the app is live in both those countries.
ZOE is responsible for building and maintaining the app and doing the core data science to calculate things like the number of new people with COVID that you see in the app every day. KCL is responsible for clinical input into the study design and for taking the data you all kindly contribute and rapidly turning it into groundbreaking academic research.
Zoe’s work on the app has been entirely self-funded by ZOE so far. However, in May we reached out for donations to The Chronic Disease Research Foundation (CDRF), an independent medical research charity, in order to help fund the study, and we were blown away by your generosity which allowed us and the academic teams to continue the study when we were worried we would have to shut it down. ZOE is currently in advanced discussions with the government about a £2M funding for the core app and are hopeful that those conversations will prove fruitful. However, we will need to raise a further £2M to support the crucial scientific research being carried out by KCL. We do hope that you, our users, will support us to continue our vital research.
So what have we achieved in the first four months of our existence, and what is next?
Identifying and supporting those at risk sooner through:
- Hotspot identification: We have built a data model which can identify hotspots sooner, we identified areas such as Leicester ahead of the government placing it into lockdown again.
- Symptom cluster analysis: Our research highlighted how a combination of over a dozen symptoms can pose different risks.
- Higher-risk communities: We revealed the 12-fold higher risk to healthcare workers across regions
- Swab testing: Using a machine learning symptom model we have supported the Department of Health to test the public and monitor rates of new cases nationally;
- Plasma donations: We have supported NHS blood and transplant in scaling up plasma donations to those in hospitals by identifying donors who have already had COVID-19.
- Providing more accurate, transparent data to the public and government
- Setting up collaborative data: Making our data accessible via the SAIL databank at Health Data Research UK
- Proving new symptoms: Our research proved that the loss of smell is a major symptom of COVID. The research was published in Nature Medicine and the UK government (finally) added it to their lists of symptoms on the 18th May
- Daily government data updates: We provide the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments with daily data feeds from the app, including daily new cases, hotspots and prevalence rates.
- Weekly public data updates: We provide app users and the public access to daily prevalence data and weekly incidence data on covid.joinzoe.com as well as access to scientists and research.
- Reporting the peak: We found that the UK COVID infection rates peaked on the 1st of April with over 2 million people
Carrying out scientific COVID-19 research including:
- One of the largest clinical trials ever: many of you are currently participating in a trial of a digital diagnostic to predict COVID, which has over 800,000 participants
- In partnership with Twins UK and the UK Biobank we are carrying out ongoing research to understand genetic and biological factors related to COVID-19
- Partnering with the NHS, Royal Medical Colleges and over 20 leading UK charities, we have studied
- Researching Hormone Replacement Therapy studies to understand the role of estrogen and COVID with NHS England;
- Researching long-term sufferers to understand causes and possible treatments;
- The impact of smoking and COVID-19
- The impact of vitamins on immunity and COVID-19
- Social deprivation and COVID-19 prevalence
- Skin rashes and have identified what COVID related skin conditions look like for different ethnicities
The team at KCL have a number of really exciting projects in the pipeline which include:
- Vaccine trial support
- Supporting trials of interventions for those with active COVID infections
- Clinical study continuation to create a digital diagnostic
- Longitudinal research to understand the impact of COVID-19 on
- Long-term sufferers
- Long-term effects of COVID-19 on future health, in areas such as respiratory, cognitive and cardiac
- Those with cancer
- Continuing to raise awareness of masks and other simple safety measures
- Rehabilitation of long term sufferers
- Supporting recruitment for preventative medicines
This list is not exhaustive but we hope it gives you some idea of the exciting things we have planned and how the next round of donations would be used.
None of this would have been possible without the millions of you who have been diligently logging day in day out, generously donating money, and telling all your families and friends about this critical research!
The COVID Symptom Study app is saving lives through science and we hope to continue to play an essential role over the next year in supporting our healthcare system, the wider UK community, and understanding the impact of COVID on long-term health.
Thank you for your ongoing support of the COVID Symptom Study!
If you are interested in donating to the COVID Symptom Study app research, please visit our Virgin Money page here.