Department of Health issues grant to COVID Symptom Study

August 18, 2020

This article has not been updated recently

The Department of Health issues grant to the COVID Symptom Study app to enhance the fight against COVID 

The Department of Health and Social Care England today announces a £2 million grant to ensure the continued operations of the COVID Symptom Study by ZOE. The grant will allow the Study and its 4 million users to operate throughout the winter, continuing to detect local hotspots and study the virus. The app is a great British success story, created not for profit by UK healthcare science company ZOE with data shared daily with researchers from King’s College London (KCL). It is the largest COVID study in the world and is one of the UK’s most innovative tools in the fight against COVID-19. This funding reflects the government’s ambition for the UK to be one of the best prepared countries in the world to fight the next stage of the pandemic.

The COVID Symptom Study app has been delivering its anonymised UK data daily to the NHS and researchers via Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) since the beginning of lockdown. The machine learning team at ZOE and KCL also provide a daily anonymised update on new cases of COVID (“incidence”) and overall cases (“prevalence”) to the DHSC, SPI-M/SAGE and the devolved regions. This data, based on millions of daily health reports logged by committed members of the public, has become an important source of information to help catch local hotspots and understand the progress of the virus. 

The technology and research team behind the app have already published 315 scientific papers identifying new symptoms and characteristics of the disease. By continuing this research, the team will play a valuable part in helping the government identify and prevent a potential future second wave. 

The study remains independent of the government, and no identifiable information such as name or address will be shared with the DHSC without users’ explicit consent.

Since its inception the COVID Symptom Study has already delivered: 

  • Rapid hotspot identification: a data model which can identify hotspots sooner - the app identified areas such as Leicester, Blackburn and Greater Manchester. 
  • Daily government data updates: the app provides the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments with daily data feeds from the app, including daily new cases, hotspots and prevalence rates.
  • Discovery of new symptoms: the app’s research proved that loss of smell is a major symptom of COVID. This research was published in Nature Medicine and the UK government added it to their list of symptoms on the 18th May. Since then, skin rashes have also been identified as an early sign of COVID.
  • Symptom cluster analysis: the app’s research highlighted how a combination of over a dozen symptoms can pose different risks.
  • Identification of higher-risk communities: the app revealed the up to 12-fold higher risk to healthcare workers across regions.
  • Plasma donation: the app supported NHS blood and transplant in scaling up plasma donations to those in hospitals by identifying donors who have already had COVID-19.
  • ZOE has created the UK’s largest COVID vaccine registry: over 800,000 people are on the registry, which is working closely with the Vaccine Trial taskforce.
  • Supporting studies for interventions to treat COVID, such as the National GP early disease study Principle by identifying potential volunteers for the studies.
  • The ability to scale testing: using a machine learning symptom model alongside swab tests, the app has already supported the Department of Health in testing the public and monitoring rates of new cases nationally and provides weekly reports alongside the ONS.

Jonathan Wolf, CEO of ZOE said: 
“We are a start-up, so we are delighted that this funding and generous contributor donations guarantees the future of the study throughout the winter. When we started the study with Prof Tim Spector at King’s in March, we never imagined it could become so important. We have been blown away by the commitment of the British public to help fight COVID, by sharing the state of their health daily. The app is an amazing demonstration of the power of large scale science and the use of machine learning. We have funded the app ourselves so far, and with this funding we can continue the essential work of hotspot detection and research on the long-term risks of COVID. We are delighted that ZOE and this innovative study can play a part in keeping the UK safe.”

The funding will support:

  1. A dedicated team of engineers, data scientists, product managers, customer support and others as well as significant server costs. These core costs will now be supported by this grant. 
  2. Funding will allow an increase in the size of the technical team to enhance the app and help deliver on features that users have been asking which allow for more local reporting data and interaction. These include but are not limited to: reporting from different addresses and further work on improved algorithms to detect the state of the pandemic.
  3. Help to support the Vaccine Task Force, by helping to find the right individuals for the many vaccine trials expected in the UK in the Autumn.
  4. Working even more closely with the DHSC and the other bodies such as the ONS helping to identify hotspots around the country.
  5. The COVID Symptom Study will continue to deliver daily reporting to the government, focusing on local hotspot detection.


For more information about the app or to request an interview with Professor Spector or Jonathan Wolf, please contact Eleanor Griffiths: 

About ZOE

ZOE is a health science company using data-driven research to tackle the world’s health issues. By using artificial intelligence combined with digital technologies like mobile phones, ZOE enables large-scale scientific studies to tackle issues like COVID-19, dietary inflammation and the impact of nutrition on health. 

Located in London and Boston, ZOE was founded by machine learning leader Jonathan Wolf and entrepreneur George Hadjigeorgiou along with Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London. ZOE has carried out the largest nutritional studies of their kind in the world, runs the COVID Symptom Study app with 4 million users around the world, and was named one of the Deloitte Fast 50 Rising Stars in 2019 for the company’s contribution to science enabled by technology and machine learning. 

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