University of Birmingham involved in £20 million COVID-19 study

Posted on 24 March 2020 (Permalink)

The University of Birmingham is part of a consortium taking part in a £20 million study to combat COVID-19 and prepare the UK to respond to future pandemics. 

According to an article on the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce website, the Government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser has backed leading clinicians and scientists to map how COVID-19 spreads and evolves using whole-genome sequencing.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) involves the NHS, Public Health agencies and academic institutions including the University of Birmingham. It  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 Birmingham, Belfast, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will provide large-scale sequencing capacity and additional support.

The University of Birmingham, led by Nick Loman, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics in the Institute of Microbiology and Infection, has deployed a real-time genome sequencing facility established at the university capable of sequencing genomes of the virus causing COVID-19 from patients in the West Midlands in less than 24 hours.

Professor Loman says:

“This is a remarkable collaboration which brings together Birmingham and the UK’s incredible depth of expertise and knowledge in viral sequencing and genomics.

"An open and distributed model of sequencing involving both academia, the NHS and our public health bodies is the right way to ensure results are delivered quickly to decision-makers.

"We are now well positioned to return deep insights into understanding the rapidly-accelerating pandemic of COVID-19, easily the most pressing infectious disease emergency we have faced in two generations in the UK.

“The Government’s investment is well-timed to accelerate the pace of viral genome sequence production and ensure this information is openly available to epidemiologists and virologists worldwide. This will provide an unprecedented real-time view of COVID-19 virus evolution.”

Understanding viral evolution is important for understanding how the virus is spreading in local, national and international settings.

It provides valuable epidemiological information revealing the chains of transmission that must be stopped in order to stop the outbreak.