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Government genomically sequences 600,000 Covid-19 samples

More than 600,000 positive Covid-19 tests have been genomically sequenced by the government to identify genes that make people more susceptible to severe symptoms, and to monitor different variants of the virus

The government has applied genome sequencing to more than 600,000 positive Covid-19 tests, capturing critical data in fighting the disease.

The University of Edinburgh has also led a study as part of the GenOMICC consortium, partnering with Genomics England, to identify if there are particular genes that could lead to people becoming very ill and needing hospital treatment, while others have no or very few symptoms.

The preliminary results of the study have so far been able to identify new possible ways to treat the virus, which are now in clinical trials.

However, the govenrment still needs a further 600 volunteers to take part in the study before it closes at the end of September.

Genomics England chief scientist Mark Caulfield said it is now a race against the clock to find suitable volunteers “matched for age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and needed hospital treatment. We particularly need more men and members of the Asian and black communities to join the study as those people who were most severely affected by Covid-19.”

Genomic sequencing has also allowed the government to quickly identify new strains of the virus, such as cases of the new Delta variant, enabling the deployment of additional support where the rate of new variants are high, aiming to slow the spread.

New health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said every single test that’s genomically sequenced “helps us learn more about this awful virus and brings us one step closer to defeating it”.

Knowing where the new variants of the disease are more prevalent has enabled the government to roll out surge testing, and all positive tests with a high enough viral load in surge testing postcodes will be sent for sequencing.

In the early days of the pandemic, the government created the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing.

In May 2021, the government launched an implementation plan over the next financial year for a wider genomics strategy in the UK. The strategy, which was published in September 2020, aims to create the world’s most advanced genomic healthcare system in the UK.

Over the 2021-22 financial year, the government will focus on a major drive, led by Genomics England, aiming to improve diversity of genomic data, “addressing the historic under-representation of data from ethnic minority groups in genomic datasets, which results in health inequalities”.

It will also focus on rolling out whole genome sequencing to patients with rare diseases and cancers, with an ambition of sequencing 500,000 genomes in the NHS and 500,000 in UK Biobank.

Read more about genome sequencing

  • Consortium of universities and other institutions has harnessed datasets, analytics and cloud computing to sequence Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in a blisteringly short time.
  • Genome UK strategy sets out plans to harness technological and science advances to create the ‘world’s most advanced genomic healthcare system’.
  • The 2021-22 implementation plan for government’s 10-year Genome UK strategy includes improving diversity of genomics data, rolling out whole genome sequencing to rare diseases patients, and delivering a proof of concept for a next-generation approach to cancer treatment.

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