Go back

UK-wide Covid-19 genomic surveillance gets £12m boost

Funding expected to help expand genome sequencing of virus to track its spread and evolution

The UK government has invested a further £12.2 million in genomic surveillance of coronavirus aimed at stopping the transmission of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, launched with £20m from the government and Wellcome Trust in March, is expected to use the funding to expand whole genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, to see how the virus spreads and evolves.

The plan is to integrate the sequencing data with Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace to better understand outbreaks and strengthen infection control measures, the government said on 16 November.

“To fully understand the spread and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we must sequence and analyse the viral genomes,” said Sharon Peacock, director of the consortium, which includes a range of research institutes and universities as well as the NHS. “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.”

By linking the data with health data, scientists hope to understand how the virus may become more or less infective, or more of less harmful to those who catch it.

It is also hoped that the research will assist in developing future vaccines, which work by targeting part of a virus’ genetic code, by tracking changes in the genetic code that may affect a vaccine’s efficacy.

“This virus is the biggest public health challenge we have faced in a century,” said health minister James Bethell. “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,” he added. “This funding is a big step forward in going further to advance our understanding of Covid-19, and helps us protect the most vulnerable—ultimately saving lives across the world.”