The study will look at the whole genomes of people with COVID-19 alongside medical information about peoples' symptoms, to explore whether specific genes cause some people to have a more severe reaction to the disease. This could help work out which existing treatments are most likely to be effective and speed up the development of new therapies.
Chief investigator Dr Kenneth Baillie, a consultant in critical care medicine from the University of Edinburgh 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.'
Dr Bailllie's GenOMICC (Genetics of Susceptibility and Mortality in Critical Care) consortium will lead the enrolment for the new initiative. GenOMICC was set up in 2016 to sequence the genomes of people in intensive care as a result of infections to help understand how genetics affects disease severity. The team are already working with NHS hospitals across the UK.
The new initiative will involve 20,000 people of all ages currently or previously in intensive care with coronavirus – participation is voluntary but ideally they would like to recruit every COVID-19 patient receiving critical care. Fifteen thousand people who have mild or moderate symptoms will also be recruited.
DNA samples from almost 2000 patients have already been collected and are being sequenced in the same Illumina laboratories where the sequencing for the 100,000 Genomics Project was carried out. Genomics England (who were responsible for the 100,000 genomes project), UK Research and Innovation, the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health Research are all collaborating on the project.
The project will run in parallel with another study in which scientists are reading the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19 (see BioNews 1041).