Genomics study launched into patients infected with coronavirus

Thousands of severely ill patients infected with coronavirus will have their genetic code studied, following a new study launched.

A partnership between Genomics England and the GenOMICC consortium, Illumina and the NHS will study a person’s genetic code 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. The sequencing study will involve 20,000 people and will take place across the NHS with patients that have been or still are in, intensive care will be the subjects of the study. In addition the study hopes to recruit 15,000 people with mild symptoms.

To support the project it has been 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.

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 “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 research may go some way to explain why some patients experience mild symptoms, where others require intensive care.