Health data scientists help launch national effort to sequence and track coronavirus genomes across the UK
23 March 2020
Health Data Research UK – the country’s national institute for health data science – will be a key partner in a major national effort to help understand and control the new coronavirus infection (COVID-19) announced by the government.
With £20m of funding, the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium will be a national network to sequence, understand and compare COVID-19 genomes from patients throughout the country hospitalised with the infection, linking viral genome data with patients’ healthcare records.
Data from this consortium will directly inform decisions to be made in the coming period by government policy-makers, healthcare providers and scientists to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
This national effort will achieve its goals by creating and distributing tools and methods to safely handle and share data across different geographical sites, and to analyse complex datasets that combine different types of information. The evidence generated by this consortium will be pivotal for many scientific and public health purposes, including:
- understanding the transmission of COVID-19, including rates of epidemic growth
- identifying geographical trends and variations in COVID-19 across the UK
- monitoring the emergence of drug resistant viral mutations in response to the introduction of new treatments and vaccines.
The coordinating hub for sequencing the viral genome will be in Cambridge, at both the Wellcome Sanger Institute, one of the world’s foremost centres for genetics and biodata, and the University of Cambridge where the award will be administered.
Health Data Research UK, the nation’s institute for health and biomedical informatics, will contribute to this effort in several ways, including:
- Dr Ewan Harrison (HDR UK Fellow), who will serve as the consortium’s Scientific Project Manager;
- Professor John Danesh (HDR UK-Cambridge Director), who will serve on the consortium’s Steering Committee;
- Dr Michael Chapman (HDR UK-Cambridge, Director of Health Informatics), who will help coordinate national efforts to link COVID-19 genome databases with epidemiological and clinical databases, drawing on the national resources and expertise of HDR UK.
Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England and Director of the Consortium, said:
“Virus sequence data, when combined with clinical and epidemiological information about patients, can provide information that can inform policy decisions made to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. This needs a coordinated national response and rapid provision of information to policy makers, which this consortium will provide.”
Dr Ewan Harrison, HDR UK Fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Cambridge University and Scientific Project Manager of the Consortium, said:
“Samples from substantial numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be whole genome sequenced and, employing leading expertise in genomics and surveillance of infectious diseases, this consortium will bring together leading groups across the country to analyse the data generated and work out how coronavirus is spreading in the UK. This will inform national and international strategies to control the pandemic and prevent further spread.”
Professor John Danesh, Director of HDR UK-Cambridge and BHF Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Cambridge University and Steering Committee Member of the Consortium, said:
“Analysing information on the viral genome code coupled with epidemiological information and patient health records is critical to understanding COVID-19.It will reveal reasons for variation in infection susceptibility and in severity of consequences after infection, which is important for informing disease control and treatment strategies.”
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