Medical research charity, LifeArc, announces today that it is providing £5 million funding to support the work of the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, led by the GenOMICC consortium in partnership with Genomics England. The study, launched in May 2020, is using genomics to investigate why some people are affected more severely by COVID-19, and increase our understanding about the disease.
GenOMICC is a global collaboration of doctors and scientists working together to understand and treat serious illnesses, including emerging infections like SARS, MERS and now COVID-19. The partnership with Genomics England was formed to enable large scale and rapid whole genome sequencing and analysis for NHS COVID-19 patients, leveraging Genomics England’s sequencing and analysis ecosystem available to researchers. LifeArc’s funding complements £4.6 million of additional funding already announced by the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and will support the costs of patient enrolment, sample acquisition, sample processing, and bioinformatics analysis of patients.
The aim is that, with a patient cohort and data set of this size, scientists will be able compare the genomes of people who had severe illness with those who had more manageable symptoms, to try to identify genetic factors associated with the body’s reaction to the virus.
It is anticipated that the output from this work will provide valuable insights into the fight against COVID-19 and potentially other coronavirus infections. This is the first time that a systematic whole genome analysis of patients of a viral pandemic has been undertaken and it is hoped that this may also provide therapeutic and preventative strategies for future pandemics.
Chris Wigley, CEO at Genomics England, said: “At Genomics England, we are proud to be working with the NHS, the University of Edinburgh and other partners in the fight against COVID-19, to understand why people respond so differently to this terrible infection. Genomics is already giving us critical insights, as the partnership’s recent Nature paper and many others have shown. LifeArc’s support will allow us to accelerate and scale these insights and continue to feed them into clinical trials, clinical practice and fundamental research.”
Melanie Lee, Chief Executive Officer at LifeArc, said: “At LifeArc we focus on translation - advancing promising science into medical interventions that improve patients’ lives. This initiative moves us forwards to better understand the heterogeneity of responses to COVID amongst people, considering that genetic variation may play a key differentiating and therefore predictable role. “It is hoped that this programme will provide rapid insights that can inform accurate diagnostics, and potential targets for drug development. We hope this work will also help inform the 15 clinical studies that we have funded into investigating existing drugs for efficacy in COVID patients, as part of the £27 million LifeArc has now allocated to research projects to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr Kenneth Baillie, Chief Investigator of the study and Academic Consultant in Critical Care Medicine, University of Edinburgh, said: "This support from LifeArc is a great boost for the GenOMICC consortium. The aim of GenOMICC is not only to find the genes that cause life-threatening disease, but to use that information to find new treatments. Our work on Covid-19 has already shown the potential of genetics to guide us about which drugs to test next. LifeArc's focus on translating scientific findings into real world impact, fits perfectly with this."