Greater Manchester joins new partnership to sequence human genomes in fight against coronavirus

NHS Trusts in Greater Manchester have joined a ground-breaking new genomics study of COVID-19 coronavirus.

The GenOMICC study, announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, will help researchers better understand the virus’ varied effects on people and support the search for treatments.

The study will see up to 20,000 people currently or previously in an intensive care unit with coronavirus, as well as 15,000 individuals who have mild or moderate symptoms, take part in a whole genome sequencing.

The project is backed by £28 million from Genomics England, UK Research and Innovation, the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research. Illumina will sequence all 35,000 genomes and share some of the cost via an in-kind contribution.

The study, facilitated by the University of Edinburgh and multiple NHS hospitals, will explore the varied effects coronavirus has on patients, supporting the search for treatments by identifying those most at risk and helping to fast-track new therapies into clinical trials.

It involves patients consenting for a blood sample to be taken, from which their DNA extracted and then analysed by researchers. Patients’ samples will always be under the control of the GenOMICC investigators and subject to UK regulations.

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.

This ground-breaking research may help explain why some patients with coronavirus experience a mild infection, others require intensive care and why some patients die from the disease.

By discovering why some people are predisposed to developing life-threatening symptoms, the consortium will be able to identify treatments which have the best chance of success in clinical trials, and potentially identify people at extreme risk if they develop COVID-19.

So far GenOMICC is recruiting in 174 intensive care units across the country, including Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (both part of the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group), and Stockport NHS Foundation Trust.

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.”

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 groundbreaking 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.”

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