A group of leading scientists and clinicians has been given £20 million to fund new research that could “unlock the secrets” of Covid-19, the Government has announced.
The team – the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium – will use whole genome sequencing to map the spread of the virus and how it behaves.
It is believed this technique will lead to a greater understanding of the disease that will allow the UK to respond to the pandemic and save lives.
It will also allow scientists to identify variants in the genetic code that may help to treat future mutations.
The consortium is made up of members of the NHS, public health agencies, genetic researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and numerous academic institutions.
It is backed by the Government and the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
Sir Patrick said he was confident that the investment would lead to “vital” breakthroughs.
“Genomic sequencing will help us understand Covid-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions,” he said.
“The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.”
The sequencing will be carried out using samples from “substantial numbers” of patients with confirmed cases of Covid-19 which will be sent to a network of centres across the UK for analysis.
Using this data, scientists will be able to monitor changes in the virus at a national scale to understand how the virus is spreading and whether different strains are emerging.
Prof Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, said that understanding the spread was “crucial” in fighting the disease.
“This virus is one of the biggest threats our nation has faced in recent times,” she said.
“Harnessing innovative genome technologies will help us tease apart the complex picture of coronavirus spread in the UK, and rapidly evaluate ways to reduce the impact of this disease on our society.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “At a critical moment in history, this new consortium will bring together the UK’s brightest and best scientists to build our understanding of this pandemic, tackle the disease and ultimately, save lives.