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Business News The Griffin Report


Professor Nick Loman from the University of Birmingham has created a consortium that is at the centre of the fight against the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. Among the experts he has recruited is Sir Patrick Vallance, now well known to television viewers of the Covid-19 updates from Downing Street. Chamberlink’s award-winning columnist Jon Griffin takes an in-depth look at their work.


University of Birmingham initiative to halt the lethal disease in its tracks. Sir Patrick Vallance, a familiar figure on


T


television broadcasts from Downing Street to millions of UK households during the worst health emergency for generations, says the Cog- UK project will see the ‘best minds’ nationwide work as part of a consortium to seek a breakthrough in the desperate race against time to stop the march of Covid-19. And medical analysis of West Midlands’


patients stricken with Covid-19 could prove crucial in the worldwide struggle to contain and eventually wipe out the mystery virus which has plunged the global economy into chaos. As the death toll mounted across the UK and


worldwide, with millions caught up in a lockdown previously unimaginable in peacetime, Sir Patrick said Cog-UK, comprising the NHS, Public Health Agencies and academic institutions, would provide ‘an unprecedented real-time view of Covid-19 virus evolution’. The £20m project will see the UK's top clinicians and scientists map the spread of the deadly virus and trace its evolution by the use of ‘whole genome sequencing’. It aims to trace the chain of events which cause the disease and share crucial intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government. Samples from patients with confirmed cases of


Covid-19 will be sent to a network of ‘sequencing centres’ which includes Birmingham, and a string of other sites from Belfast to Cambridge, Cardiff to Nottingham and Oxford to Sheffield.


‘Understanding viral evolution is important for understanding how the virus is spreading in local, national and international settings’


The consortium of ‘best minds’ will look for


breakthroughs to help the UK respond to the coronavirus emergency and possible future pandemics, saving lives in the process. Sir Patrick said of the Birmingham initiative:


“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 top Government scientific adviser at the heart of the life or death fight against coronavirus in the UK is backing a


“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 University of Birmingham, led by Nick


Loman, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics in the Institute of Microbiology and Infection, is using a ‘real-time genome sequencing facility’ capable of tracing the virus within less than 24 hours by examining West Midlands Covid-19 patients. Professor Loman said: “This is a remarkable


collaboration which brings together Birmingham and the UK’s incredible depth of expertise and knowledge in viral sequencing and genomics. “An open and distributed model of sequencing involving both academics, the NHS and public health bodies is the right way to ensure results are delivered quickly to decision- makers. “We are now well positioned to return deep


insights into understanding the rapidly accelerating pandemic Covid-19, easily the most pressing infectious disease emergency we have faced in two generations in the UK. “The Government’s investment is well timed


to accelerate the pace of viral genome sequencing production and ensure this information is openly available to epidemiologists and virologists worldwide. This will provide an unprecedented real-time view of Covid-19 virus evolution. “Understanding viral evolution is important for


understanding how the virus is spreading in local, national and international settings.


24 CHAMBERLINK May 2020


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