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The RECOVERY Trial has been awarded the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) Award in the ‘Research Project of the Year: STEM’ category. The award was presented last night at a ceremony held at the Hilton London Metropole Hotel, and received by Oxford Population Health’s Director of Communications and Public Engagement, Anne Whitehouse.

Known as ‘the Oscars of higher education’, the awards attract hundreds of entries each year that ‘exemplify the talent, dedication and innovation of individuals and teams across all aspects of university life.’ This year, almost 600 entries were made across the 20 categories, demonstrating the important role universities have played in negotiating the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic to continue delivering impactful, innovative research. 

The ‘Research Project of the Year: STEM’ category, sponsored by Elsevier, is awarded to an individual or team at a UK or Irish higher education institution for ‘innovative research in STEM subjects that has a far-reaching impact and has caught, or has the potential to catch, the imagination of the public.’ Submissions needed to demonstrate evidence of significant or novel results, creative collaborations and imaginative communication of research results. 

Having launched as an emergency response in just nine days in March 2020, RECOVERY has found three effective treatments for COVID-19, discoveries that have vastly improved the care of patients hospitalised by coronavirus worldwide. These are the inexpensive steroid dexamethasone, the arthritis treatment tocilizumab and Ronapreve, a synthetic monoclonal antibody treatment that protects the immunocompromised. The study has also proved six other treatments to be ineffective against COVID-19 (including hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma), helping healthcare services to prioritise resources.

THE editor John Gill said: ‘The award winners demonstrate that 2019-20 was not just a year of pandemic disruption, it was also a year in which incredible achievements were made in all the areas you would hope and expect: world-changing research, brilliant learning and teaching, international and industrial engagement, and the full gamut of activities that run through universities like words through a stick of rock.’ 

Sir Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Joint Chief Investigator for RECOVERY, said ‘This award is a real recognition that throughout this pandemic science has been our saviour. Understanding which treatments work and which do not has saved hundreds of thousands, probably millions of lives. Long-term investment into science, technology, and a real understanding of what matters to solve a pandemic has been at the heart of the success of RECOVERY.’

Sir Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and Joint Chief Investigator for the RECOVERY trial, added: ‘This has really been a national effort that goes far beyond the team here at Oxford University, and we can't thank enough all the people who have made RECOVERY possible. We’d also like to thank our funders of course: UK Research and Innovation, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Wellcome, and many other organisations who are supporting this work.’

The University of Oxford received two other awards. Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who developed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, received the THE Outstanding Achievement Award, with the judges crediting the marrying of her long-standing experience in immunology to “phenomenal foresight, perseverance and sheer hard work”.

The work of the University’s Public Affairs Directorate to make the university the go-to source of information for policymakers and the media during the pandemic delivered a third win for the institution on the night, in the Outstanding Marketing/Communications Team category.

The full list of the winners and details of the awards are available on the THE Awards website.