News

15 Feb 2022

RAND Europe evaluation of the progress and impact of COG-UK

Over the past year, RAND Europe has been undertaking an evaluation of COG-UK to learn about the consortium’s progress, evolution and impact. That report was released today and can be found here

“Commissioning an independent evaluation of COG-UK was vital both in terms of accountability for the public money invested in the consortium and also in ensuring that we learn from what worked, and what could have been improved, to maximise the legacy of the endeavour and achievement of all involved. As such, I welcome the publication of the report from RAND Europe, which recognises the important contributions of the consortium during the pandemic response and advancing genomics as part of the public health landscape in the UK and internationally. I echo the report in acknowledging the immense motivation and goodwill shown by consortium members, which was needed to meet the challenges imposed by the rapidly changing pandemic environment. The report highlights the need for long-term strategic planning for strengthening public health genomics capacity in terms of infrastructure, workforce training, data linkage and wider collaboration among stakeholders in the public health genomics space, all points which I firmly support. While the full impact and legacy of COG-UK may only become clear in the years to come, the report only reinforces my admiration for all members that contributed so much and the pride I feel in having served as Executive Director and Chair of the consortium over the past two years.”

Professor Sharon Peacock, Executive Director and Chair, COG-UK.

 

Press release:

COG-UK consortium’s pathogen genomics expertise played important role in UK response to COVID-19; valuable contribution to public health genomics should not be lost

­– Efforts of COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium helped to:

  • advance scientific knowledge about different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus
  • inform key policy and public health decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • inform medical innovation efforts

– Pathogen genomics capacity needs to be embedded into the public health system for the long term, to help support pandemic preparedness and resilience

 

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium has made a significant and valuable contribution to the United Kingdom’s public health genomics landscape, according to an independent evaluation by the not-for-profit institute RAND Europe.

Researchers found that the consortium’s efforts to sequence and understand the diverse variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, have been key to informing public health decision-making and efforts to control its spread.

The study evaluated the progress, evolution and impacts of COG-UK, a collaboration of experts in pathogen genomics established soon after the UK went into its first lockdown in March 2020. It includes academic institutions, the four public health agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, National Health Service (NHS) Trusts and Lighthouse Labs.

The collaboration has received funding from the National Institute for Health Research, the Medical Research Council part of United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), Genome Research Limited (operating as the Wellcome Sanger Institute), the Testing Innovation Fund, and NHS Test and Trace.

During the evaluation period, COG-UK sequenced more than 800,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes across the UK. The total is now nearing 2 million. Such sequencing data and associated research and analyses have helped identify variants of concern and increased knowledge about viral behaviour, transmissibility and spread, as well as the impact of diverse public health measures.

“The work of experts in the field of pathogen genomics that are part of COG-UK has underpinned key sequencing and research efforts,” said Sonja Marjanovic, lead author and director of healthcare innovation at RAND Europe. “This helped policymakers understand SARS-CoV-2 behaviour better, such as links between new variants and disease severity, and also informed policies related to border control, travel, lockdown and social distancing across the four nations of the UK.”

“The consortium’s pathogen sequencing has also contributed to decision-making in local settings, such as hospitals, care homes and universities, by helping to understand sources of outbreaks and transmission patterns and by informing infection prevention and control,” said Tom Ling, report author and head of evaluation at RAND Europe.

The study further found that COG-UK has provided important inputs into medical innovation in response to the pandemic through its data and analytics. For example, the consortium’s open sharing of data and insights have helped in efforts to understand and evaluate how well vaccines work against specific variants. The collaboration is also working with various groups to identify and characterise variants of concern in a way that could inform the development of the next generation of vaccines.

The report authors stress that COG-UK’s model of contribution to the COVID-19 pandemic response was not designed to be sustainable in its current form. Efforts should therefore be made to ensure that the expertise, experiences and relationships that have developed are not lost. A public health genomics ecosystem should be built with pathogen-sequencing networks at its core. Achieving this would depend on the abilities of decision makers in the public health system to transition from an emergency response operation to a legacy of sustained impact.

“The evaluation highlights the need for cooperation between different agencies and the need to embed genomics capacity into the public health system, build more sustainable workforce capacity and invest in clinical and epidemiological data linkage,” said Marjanovic.

“COG-UK’s legacy could contribute to strengthening networks across the UK and encourage cross-organisational and interdisciplinary working, enhancing UK science’s global presence,” said Robert Romanelli, a research leader at RAND Europe and co-author on the evaluation.

Professor Sharon Peacock, executive director and chair of COG-UK, said: “Commissioning an independent evaluation of COG-UK was vital both in terms of accountability for the public money invested in the consortium and also in ensuring that we learn from what worked, and what could have been improved, to maximise the legacy of the endeavour and achievement of all involved.”

Besides Marjanovic, Ling and Romanelli, authors of the report, Evaluation of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, are Gemma Claire-Ali, Brandi Leach, Margaretha Bonsu and Daniela Rodriguez Rincon.


COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium works in partnership to harness the power of SARS-CoV-2 genomics in the fight against COVID-19.

Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative collaboration of NHS organisations, the four public health agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and sixteen academic partners. A full list of collaborators can be found here.

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COG-UK consortium was formed in March 2020 to deliver SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis to inform public health policy and to support the establishment of a national pathogen sequencing service, with sequence data now predominantly generated by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Public Health Agencies.

SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis plays a key role in the COVID-19 public health response by enabling the identification, tracking and analysis of variants of concern, and by informing the design of vaccines and therapeutics. COG-UK works collaboratively to deliver world-class research on pathogen sequencing and analysis, maximise the value of genomic data by ensuring fair access and data linkage, and provide a training programme to enable equity in global sequencing.