UK-based consortium has been granted £12.2m to track the evolution of SARS-CoV-2

The UK Department for Health and Social Care Testing Innovation Fund has granted £12.2m to the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium to track the evolution of SARS-CoV-2.

The viral genome sequencing data will advise UK public health agencies to further our understanding of outbreaks and to strengthen infection control measures. Integrating real-time viral genomic data into outbreaks investigations identifies patterns linking individual cases and can reveal otherwise unidentifiable opportunities for intervention. Viral genome sequencing also enables monitoring of the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 for mutations that may impact on the efficacy of vaccines.

The COG-UK Consortium was created to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres, public health agencies, and the UK Government. Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge & Director Of Science at Public Health England, COG-UK is an innovative partnership of healthcare organisations from across the UK providing world leading expertise in SARS-CoV-2 genomics and supporting sequencing and analysis capacity nationwide.

Since its launch in March 2020, COG-UK has generated more than 100,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes, making up over 45% of the global total. This unprecedented effort has not been achieved previously for any pathogen, anywhere in the world.

The 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.

Professor Sharon Peacock, who is the Director of COG-UK, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge and a Director Of Science (Pathogen Genomics) at Public Health England, 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 allows 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.”

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