Scientists at the Quadram Institute in Norwich will be using newly announced additional government funding to increase its coronavirus genomic epidemiology work through the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium.
The Department for Health and Social Care’s Testing Innovation Fund has backed the COG-UK consortium in expanding whole genome sequencing of positive SARS-CoV-2 virus samples to map how COVID-19 spreads and evolves. The £12.2 million will be shared across COG-UK and will support the Quadram Institute’s contribution to building a national real-time genomic surveillance system of COVID-19 to help tackle the pandemic.
Dr Justin O’Grady, of the Quadram Institute and University of East Anglia, welcomed the news: “This new funding will allow the team at the Quadram to scale up our sequencing of the genome and we are already purchasing new equipment and recruiting new staff to help increase our capacity. I’m proud of the fact the Quadram Institute has been one of highest-throughput sequencing sites in the consortium and in the world. This additional funding recognises our capacity as an institute to rapidly respond to this and future global pandemics.”
As part of the national genomic surveillance system, Quadram researchers analyse viral genome sequencing to support the four UK Public Health Agencies, regional Public Health teams, and NHS Test and Trace to help understand outbreaks and strengthen infection control measures.
Since 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.
Director of the Quadram Institute, Professor Ian Charles, said: “Since March, our work as part of the COG-UK consortium has been a shining example of scientific collaboration and innovation both across the country and here in Norwich. I’m very proud of the way our researchers have rapidly adapted their work to help provide vital support to colleagues in public health and the NHS.”
Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics-UK consortium said: “To fully understand the spread and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we must sequence and analyse the viral genomes Analysis of viral genome sequences also allow 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.”
Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “This virus is the biggest public health challenge we have faced in a century. We have responded with one of the greatest collective efforts this nation has seen in peacetime. As each day passes, we are learning more and there have already been incredible advancements in science.
As we pull together to tackle this, it’s imperative we are on the front foot with our research. This funding is a big step forward in going further to advance our understanding of COVID-19, and help us protect the most vulnerable – ultimately saving lives across the world.”