CVR named as part of £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium

Issued: Mon, 23 Mar 2020 00:01:00 GMT

The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) is named today (Monday 23 March) as one of 13 key centres in a pan-UK alliance of scientists, working on COVID-19 whole genome sequencing.

The Centre – one of only two facilities involved in Scotland – will play a key role in the new £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. The consortium is backed by the government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser and is comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, The Wellcome Sanger Institute, and 13 academic institutions, including the University of Glasgow.

The CVR will use its labs to sequence the genome of the virus from confirmed Scottish patients, and work with partners to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves in populations around the UK. It is hoped that the genetic code could arm public health agencies and clinicians with a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat COVID-19.

The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research sequences the first SARS-CoV-2 virus sample in Scotland

In early March 2020, CVR scientists working in partnership with the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, rapidly sequenced the virus from the first COVID-19 patient confirmed in Scotland.

Through a £20 million investment, the consortium will look for breakthroughs that could help the UK respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives.

COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium will deliver large scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government.

Samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres, which currently includes Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute will collaborate with expert groups across the country to analyse the genetic code of COVID-19 samples circulating in the UK, and in doing so, give public health agencies and clinicians a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat the virus.

By looking at the whole virus genome in people who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, scientists can monitor changes in the virus at a national scale to understand how the virus is spreading and whether different strains are emerging. This will help clinical care of patients and save lives.

Professor Massimo Palmarini, Director of the CVR, said: “The CVR and its scientists are at the centre of Scotland’s – and the UK’s – response to the current coronavirus outbreak. As the largest group of virologists in the UK with the facilities to handle samples from infected patients, we are well placed to conduct pivotal research into emerging diseases such as COVID-19.

“In the coming weeks and months, our scientists will continue to work in collaboration with the whole COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, sequencing the virus, as well as conducting further research into SARS-CoV-2, its mechanisms of action and potential therapies.”

The UK Consortium is supported by the Government, including the NHS, Public Health England, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Wellcome, will enable clinicians and public health teams to rapidly investigate clusters of cases in hospitals, care homes and the community, to understand how the virus is spread and implement appropriate infection control measures.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “At a critical moment in history, this new consortium will bring together the UK’s brightest and best scientists to build our understanding of this pandemic, tackle the disease and ultimately, save lives.

“As a Government we are working tirelessly to do all we can to fight COVID-19 to protect as many lives and save as many jobs as possible.”

Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions.

“The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.”

Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, said: “This virus is one of the biggest threats our nation has faced in recent times and crucial to helping us fight it is understanding how it is spreading. Harnessing innovative genome technologies will help us tease apart the complex picture of coronavirus spread in the UK, and rapidly evaluate ways to reduce the impact of this disease on our society.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said: “By bringing together public health expertise from Public Health England and genomic science from the Wellcome Sanger Institute the UK can crack the code of this virus, and we should give everyone involved huge credit for that.

“Rapid genome sequencing of COVID-19 will give us unparalleled insights into the spread, distribution and scale of the epidemic in the UK. The power of 21st century science to combat this pandemic is something that those going before us could not have dreamt of, and it is incumbent on us to do everything we can to first understand, and then limit, the impact of COVID-19.”

Professor Fiona Watt, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation said: “The UK is a leader in cutting edge genome sequencing science. We are now applying specialist expertise in our fight to slow the spread of Coronavirus and accelerate treatments for those affected.

“The ambitious and coordinated response of our research community to the COVID-19 challenge is remarkable.”


Enquiries: ali.howard@glasgow.ac.uk or elizabeth.mcmeekin@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 6557 or 0141 330 4831

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