Thousands of severely ill patients infected with coronavirus will have their genetic code studied.
The idea behind studying a person’s genetic code is to help scientists understand whether a person’s genetics influences how susceptible they are to the virus.
The partnership involves Genomics England and the University of Edinburgh who have joined together to lead the research drive in the search for new treatments.
The genome sequencing study will involve 20,000 people and take place across the NHS.
Patients that have been or still are in, intensive care will be the subjects of the study.
Additionally, 15,000 people with mild symptoms will also be chosen.
Genomics England is partnering with GenOMICC consortium, Illumina and the NHS to launch the research drive.
The drive will reach patients in 170 ICUs in the UK.
The project has received £28 million from Genomics England, UK Research and Innovation, the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said:
“As each day passes, we are learning more about this virus, and understanding how genetic makeup may influence how people react to it is a critical piece of the jigsaw.
“This is a ground-breaking and far-reaching study which will harness the UK’s world-leading genomics science to improve treatments and ultimately save lives across the world.
Since genetic discoveries need very large numbers of patients, the GenOMICC study ultimately aims to recruit every single COVID-19 patient who is admitted to intensive care in the UK.
Patients will only be enrolled in the study if they, or their next of kin, have given their consent.
As part of this study so far, DNA samples have been collected from almost 2,000 patients.
Chris Wigley, CEO of Genomics England, said:
“At Genomics England, we are extremely proud to be working with the NHS and other partners in the fight against COVID-19, to understand why people respond differently to this infection.
“Our goal with this study is to help the national response to this terrible pandemic, using the experience we have gained through the 100,000 Genomes Project, and leveraging our ongoing work in genomic research and healthcare.
“As with all ground-breaking science, we don’t know what the answer is yet – but we are convening the finest minds in academia and industry to try to find out.
Genomics England will read the data from entire genomes – or genetic blueprints – of thousands of people who have been most severely affected by coronavirus and compare them to those who experience only mild symptoms.
Dr Kenneth Baillie, Chief Investigator at the University of Edinburgh, leading this study, said:
“Our genes play a role in determining who becomes desperately sick with infections like COVID-19. Understanding these genes will help us to choose treatments for clinical trials.
“The GenOMICC study was launched before this outbreak and it is recruiting in more than 160 ICUs across the country with tremendous support from the critical care community. We are excited to work with Genomics England to tackle this new and complex disease.”
The research may go some way to explain why some patients experience mild symptoms, where others require intensive care.
Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Chief Scientist at Genomics England, said:
“For the first time in a generation we face a global viral pandemic that is life threatening for some people, yet others have a mild infection.
By reading the whole genome we may be able to identify variation that affects response to COVID-19 and discover new therapies that could reduce harm, save lives and even prevent future outbreaks.”
Whole genome sequencing will be carried out by Illumina at its laboratories in Cambridge, UK, where they successfully delivered the 100,000 Genomes Project together with Genomics England and the NHS.
Paula Dowdy, General Manager and SVP Illumina, EMEA, said:
“We have a long-standing partnership with Genomics England and are proud to support this new genomics initiative from our Cambridge-based lab.
“The results will establish a unique platform for researchers to understand the human response to coronavirus infection, leading towards new treatments and ways to control infection spread.”
Professor Sharon Peacock CBE, Director of COG-UK, said:
“This study is a fantastic example of how different parts of the UK genomics community are working together to get a full genomic picture of the spread and impact of the virus.
“In COG-UK we have already sequenced over 10,000 virus genomes from patients with COVID-19. Linking this data to the patient’s own genome data in the Genomics England-GenOMICC study may provide unique insights into how the patient and virus genomes act together to influence the patient’s response to the infection and will help inform and improve our response to future outbreaks.”
Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), who have given £3 million in funding to the project, said:
“The UK is a global leader in the genetic analysis of disease. By applying this expertise to examine the role of genetic factors in COVID-19, including in young severely impacted patients without known underlying health issues, this study could identify important risk factors and disease mechanisms, which may lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.”
Part of the study will also focus on children severely affected by the disease.
Professor John Bradley CBE, Chief Investigator of the NIHR BioResource, said:
“The NIHR BioResource is delighted to build on our established partnership with Genomics England and work with GenOMICC to understand in particular why some children and young adults are so severely affected by COVID19.
“These initiatives will enable novel insights into the virus, as well as possible human factors that influence the effects of the disease, and whether a combination of both shape outcomes for NHS patients.”
Professor Dame Sue Hill, Chief Scientific Officer and SRO for Genomics at NHS England and NHS Improvement said:
“This study has the potential to dramatically improve our understanding of COVID-19 – it could help us to identify whether underlying genomic differences play a part in how people react to the virus and why some people have few or no symptoms whilst others can get very ill.
“I am very grateful to all the staff, patients and families who are working on and participating in this study, at what is a very challenging time.”