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Cambridge University to Spearhead £20 million Alliance to Map Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

The University of Cambridge is to take a leading role in a major national effort to help understand and control the new coronavirus infection (COVID-19) announced today by the Government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

Through a £20 million investment administered by the University, the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and numerous academic institutions will deliver large-scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centers and the Government.

Samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centers which currently includes Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

The University along with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, one of the world’s most advanced centers of genomes and data, will coordinate the collaboration between expert groups across the UK to analyze the genetic code of COVID-19 samples circulating in the UK and in doing so, give public health agencies and clinicians a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat the virus.

By looking at the whole virus genome in people who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, scientists can monitor changes in the virus at a national scale to understand how the virus is spreading and whether different strains are emerging. 

The UK Consortium, supported by the Government, including the NHS, Public Health England, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Wellcome, will enable clinicians and public health teams to rapidly investigate clusters of cases in hospitals, care homes and the community, to understand how the virus is spread and implement appropriate infection control measures.

The Consortium Director will be Professor Sharon Peacock, Chair of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England.

“This virus is one of the biggest threats our nation has faced in recent times and crucial to helping us fight it is understanding how it is spreading,” said Professor Peacock. “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.”

Dr. Ewan Harrison from the Department of Medicine will serve as the Scientific Project Manager. Professor John Danesh from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care will serve on the consortium’s Steering Committee.

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