£12.2 million boost for SARS-CoV-2 real-time genomic surveillance
The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium has been backed by the Department for Health and Social Care Testing Innovation Fund to expand whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2
The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium has been backed by the Department for Health and Social Care Testing Innovation Fund to expand whole genome sequencing of positive SARS-CoV-2 virus samples to map how COVID-19 spreads and evolves. The £12.2M funding will facilitate the genome sequencing capacity needed to meet the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases expected in the UK this winter.
COG-UK is made up of an innovative partnership of NHS organisations, the four Public Health Agencies of the UK, and researchers from academic partners across the UK, including the University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Edinburgh, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, Imperial College London, University of Liverpool, University of Nottingham, Northumbria University, University of Oxford, University of Portsmouth, the Quadram Institute – Norwich, Queens University – Belfast, University of Sheffield, University College London, and the Wellcome Sanger Institute. In addition, a large number of other institutes and partners are essential to the COG-UK effort (a full list is here).
COG-UK researchers have built a central database and developed cutting-edge analytical methodology and data pipelines for SARS-CoV-2 genomics. COG-UK has led the development of analytical software to define viral lineages and shares methods globally. Collectively, these data and tools have provided important scientific insights into the spread and evolution of the virus, at local, regional, national and international scales.
Since its launch in March 2020, COG-UK has generated and made publicly available more than 100,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes, making up over 45 per cent of the global total. This unprecedented effort has not been achieved previously for any pathogen, anywhere in the world.
However, the steadily rising numbers of cases in the UK requires a prompt increase in the national SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing capacity, to ensure that the benefits of using genome sequence data can be realised in a rapid and robust manner.
The additional investment will enable COG-UK to grow and strengthen current genomic surveillance efforts, with the aim of increasing sequencing capacity across the national network and reducing turnaround time from patient sample to genome sequence.
The viral genome sequencing data will be integrated within the four UK Public Health Agencies & NHS Test and Trace to help understand outbreaks and strengthen infection control measures. It will also be used to detect and track mutations that could be harmful to human health, such as those that could reduce vaccine efficacy.
Looking ahead, researchers from all of partner organisations will continue to make immense contributions to sequencing, analysis, working on research priorities and R&D, supporting the CLIMB-COVID database and developing cutting-edge analytical tools.
Professor Sharon Peacock, who is the 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 Public Health England, said: