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UK launches whole genome sequence alliance to map spread of coronavirus

Tuesday March 24th, 2020

The £20 million investment could help public health agencies combat COVID-19 and future pandemics.investment_9147687Sml

  • Government and scientific community back new genome sequencing consortium to map spread of COVID-19
  • £20 million investment will allow scientists and clinicians to unlock secrets of the disease
  • the genetic code could arm public health agencies and clinicians with a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat COVID-19

The government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser have today (Monday 23 March) backed the UK’s leading clinicians and scientists to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing. Through a £20 million investment, the consortium will look for breakthroughs that help the UK respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives.

COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium – comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and numerous academic institutions – will deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the government.

Samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres which currently includes Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute, one of the world’s most advanced centres of genomes and data, will collaborate with expert groups across the country to analyse the genetic code of COVID-19 samples circulating in the UK and in doing so, give public health agencies and clinicians a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat the virus.

By looking at the whole virus genome in people who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, scientists can monitor changes in the virus at a national scale to understand how the virus is spreading and whether different strains are emerging. This will help clinical care of patients and save lives.

The UK Consortium, supported by the government, including the NHS, Public Health England, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Wellcome, will enable clinicians and public health teams to rapidly investigate clusters of cases in hospitals, care homes and the community, to understand how the virus is spread and implement appropriate infection control measures.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said:

“Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions.

The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.”

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