‘World-class’ CLIMB project receives £1.2 million funding boost from UKRI 

As part of a wider £213 million investment to expand and upgrade ‘world-class’ research infrastructure, the Cloud Infrastructure for Microbial Bioinformatics (CLIMB) project — the ultra-high performance computing infrastructure which has supported the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium throughout the pandemic — has received a £1.2 million funding boost from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The CLIMB project, based in Birmingham and Cardiff, has proved pivotal to the consortium in providing the computing infrastructure and bioinformatics analysis capability that has helped sequence over 170,000 virus genomes to date — helping to understand the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and advise local and national control strategies.

Professor Tom Connor, of Cardiff University, said “The development of the CLIMB-COVID infrastructure has underpinned rapid SARS-CoV-2 sequence sharing and analysis in the UK, and this funding will enable us to extend and expand this capability to support efforts globally.”

“The use of genomics to support the COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK has been world-leading, and this funding will enable the provision of a global platform to support international efforts to examine SARS-CoV-2 genomes, and provide the tools for others to replicate what we have been able to do in the UK.”

“The funding will provide for the purchase of cutting edge computational equipment which will be made available to the wider Global Health community – the success of CLIMB-COVID has been built on collaborative endeavour, and we are excited that we will be able to support global collaboration through this new award. SARS-CoV-2 provides a great example of the relevance and power of genomics to track and characterise pathogens in real time.”

What is CLIMB?

CLIMB was launched in 2014, supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to meet the needs of medical microbiologists handling vast amounts of data coming from high-throughput genomics. It is an open, cloud-based computing infrastructure for developing and sharing datasets and bioinformatics software, tools and methods to interpret ‘big data’.

CLIMB represents a partnership between the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leicester, Swansea and Warwick, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Quadram Institute.

How has CLIMB supported the COG-UK consortium?

After the UK Government and Chief Scientific Adviser announced a £20 million initiative to map how COVID-19 spreads and evolves on March 23rd 2020 — the COG-UK consortium — CLIMB’s pre-existing infrastructure and expertise allowed the consortium to launch quickly and deliver rapid genome sequencing data of SARS-CoV-2.

Insights from these data have informed national decision-making of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) as well as the local public health level, including monitoring outbreaks in real-time.

Professor Nick Loman, of the University of Birmingham, said, “We have focused on analysing UK genomes in the UKRI funded CLIMB-COVID infrastructure which was back in late March 2020 in response to the pandemic. Bioinformatics and phylogenetics are key steps to making use of genome data to understand better how the virus spreads, and how it is evolving.”

“This funding will be transformative to pay for additional capacity to permit us to offer our SARS-CoV-2 analysis infrastructure to a global audience. We anticipate being able to help support the sequencing efforts of many countries who may have limited computing resources by offering our cloud-based system.”

“The recent global spread of novel variants of concern have demonstrated the value of genomic surveillance particularly in the UK, but this capacity needs to be available globally as viruses do not respect borders, and we will not be truly safe until all countries are safe. By allowing a global audience to benefit from the new CLIMB resources we can help facilitate equitable data sharing for fighting COVID-19.”

World-class research infrastructure

The £213 million funding, delivered through the government’s World Class Labs funding scheme and made through seven of UKRI’s research councils, covers investments in all disciplines from physical sciences to arts and humanities.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:  “The response from UK scientists and researchers to coronavirus has been nothing short of phenomenal. We need to match this excellence by ensuring scientific facilities are truly world class, so scientists can continue carrying out life-changing research for years to come as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Read more about the investment here.


COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)

The current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium has been created to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres and the UK government.

Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative partnership of NHS organisations, the four Public Health Agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and twelve academic partners providing sequencing and analysis capacity. A full list of collaborators can be found here. Professor Peacock is also on a part-time secondment to PHE as Director of Science, where she focuses on the development of pathogen sequencing through COG-UK.

COG-UK was established in March 2020 supported by £20 million funding from the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, administered by UK Research and Innovation.