Thousands of patients severely ill with coronavirus will have their genetic code studied to help scientists understand whether a person’s genetics may influence their susceptibility to the virus. 

A major new human whole genome sequencing study will take place across the NHS, involving 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.

Genomics England, is partnering with the GenOMICC consortium, Illumina and the NHS to launch the research drive, which will reach patients in 170 intensive care units throughout the UK.

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.

DNA samples collected from almost 2,000 patients

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.

 

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 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."

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.