Genomic surveillance to stop COVID-19 transmission boosted with £12.2 million

£12.2 million funding will be used by the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) to expand whole genome sequencing to discover how COVID-19 evolves and spreads.

With £12.2 million of funding being used for life-saving research, the public will be better protected as the data pertaining to viral genome sequencing will ensure better understanding of COVID-19 outbreaks. The research will be paramount in the monitoring of the evolution of COVID-19 and possible mutations.

Genome sequencing reads the virus’s genetic code using scientific techniques, helping researchers better understand how the virus evolves and spreads. By using samples taken from the environment and people, COG-UK can track any changes in the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the UK, the capacity of the national SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing needs to be expanded. It is important that genome sequence data be updated and analyzed rapidly and on a large scale to be effective in the fight against the virus. The funding will increase the genome sequencing capacity in time for the increased number of cases this winter in the UK.

The data collected from the genome sequencing will be integrated with NHS Track and Trace and Public Health England (PHE) to help understand the infection’s outbreaks and strengthen the country’s control measures to ensure public safety and prevent further transmission.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said:

“This virus is the biggest public health challenge we have faced in a century. We have responded with one of the greatest collective efforts this nation has seen in peacetime. As each day passes, we are learning more and there have already been incredible advancements in science.

“As we pull together to tackle this, it’s imperative we are on the front foot with our research. This funding is a big step forward in going further to advance our understanding of COVID-19, and help us protect the most vulnerable – ultimately saving lives across the world.

“Linking the data from viral genome sequencing with health data of those who test positive for COVID-19 allows us to better understand how the virus may become more or less infective, or more or less harmful to those who catch it.

“This vital research will also assist in developing potential vaccines in the future. Some vaccines work by targeting part of a virus’s genetic code, and by tracking changes in the genetic code, we are able to identify any changes which may affect a vaccines ability to provide protection.”

Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge and a Director Of Science (Pathogen Genomics) at PHE, said:

“To fully understand the spread and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we must sequence and analyse the viral genomes. The pattern of accumulation of mutations in the genomes enables us to determine the relatedness of virus samples and define viral lineages in order to understand whether local outbreaks are caused by transmission of single or multiple viral lineages.

“Analysis of viral genome sequences also allow us to monitor the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assess whether specific mutations influence transmission, disease severity, or the impact of interventions such as vaccines.”
Since launching in March this year, COG-UK has made more than 100 000 SARS-CoV-2 publicly available which makes up more than 45 percent of the global total putting the UK in the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. The COG-UK’s central database has developed cutting-edge data pipelines and analytical methodology and is leading the way in developing viral lineages.

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