LifeArc provides £5 million funding to increase understanding of the role of genetic risk factors in patient response to COVID-19

Medical research charity, LifeArc, announces today that it is providing £5 million funding to support the work of the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, led by the GenOMICC consortium in partnership with Genomics England. The study, launched in May 2020, is using genomics to investigate why some people are affected more severely by COVID-19, and increase our understanding about the disease.

GenOMICC is a global collaboration of doctors and scientists working together to understand and treat serious illnesses, including emerging infections like SARS, MERS and now COVID-19. The partnership with Genomics England was formed to enable large scale and rapid whole genome sequencing and analysis for NHS COVID-19 patients, leveraging Genomics England’s sequencing and analysis ecosystem available to researchers. LifeArc’s funding complements £4.6 million of additional funding already announced by the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and will support the costs of patient enrolment, sample acquisition, sample processing, and bioinformatics analysis of patients.  The aim is that, with a patient cohort and data set of this size, scientists will be able compare the genomes of people who had severe illness with those who had more manageable symptoms, to try to identify genetic factors associated with the body’s reaction to the virus.

It is anticipated that the output from this work will provide valuable insights into the fight against COVID-19 and potentially other coronavirus infections. This is the first time that a systematic whole genome analysis of patients of a viral pandemic has been undertaken and it is hoped that this may also provide therapeutic and preventative strategies for future pandemics.

Chris Wigley , CEO at Genomics England, said: “At Genomics England, we are proud to be working with the NHS, the University of Edinburgh and other partners in the fight against COVID-19, to understand why people respond so differently to this terrible infection. Genomics is already giving us critical insights, as the partnership’s recent Nature paper and many others have shown. LifeArc’s support will allow us to accelerate and scale these insights and continue to feed them into clinical trials, clinical practice and fundamental research.”

Melanie Lee, Chief Executive Officer at LifeArc, said: “At LifeArc we focus on translation – advancing promising science into medical interventions that improve patients’ lives. This initiative moves us forwards to better understand the heterogeneity of responses to COVID amongst people, considering that genetic variation may play a key differentiating and therefore predictable role.

“It is hoped that this programme will provide rapid insights that can inform accurate diagnostics, and potential targets for drug development. We hope this work will also help inform the 15 clinical studies that we have funded into investigating existing drugs for efficacy in COVID patients, as part of the £27 million LifeArc has now allocated to research projects to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Dr Kenneth Baillie, Chief Investigator of the study and Academic Consultant in Critical Care Medicine, University of Edinburgh, said: “This support from LifeArc is a great boost for the GenOMICC consortium. The aim of GenOMICC is not only to find the genes that cause life-threatening disease, but to use that information to find new treatments. Our work on Covid-19 has already shown the potential of genetics to guide us about which drugs to test next. LifeArc’s focus, on translating scientific findings into real world impact, fits perfectly with this.”

 

About LifeArc

LifeArc is a self-funded medical research charity. Our mission is to advance translation of early science into health care treatments or diagnostics that can be taken through to full development and made available to patients. We have been doing this for more than 25 years and our work has resulted in a diagnostic for antibiotic resistance and four licensed medicines.

Our success allows us to explore new approaches to stimulate and fund translation. We have our own drug discovery and diagnostics development facilities, supported by experts in technology transfer and intellectual property who also provide services to other organisations. Our model is built on collaboration, and we partner with a broad range of groups including medical research charities, research organisations, industry and academic scientists.

Two funds help us to invest in external projects for the benefit of patients: our Philanthropic Fund provides grants to support medical research projects focused on the translation of rare diseases research and our Seed Fund is aimed at start-up companies focussed on developing new therapeutics and biological modalities. Find out more about our work on www.lifearc.org or follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

About Genomics England

Genomics England was set up in 2013 to deliver the 100,000 Genomes Project, which was established to sequence 100,000 whole genomes from around 85,000 NHS patients affected by a rare disease or cancer. The 100,000th genome was sequenced in December 2018. The Project has demonstrated how genomics insights can help doctors across the NHS and has built a foundation for the future by assembling a unique dataset. To date, actionable findings have been found for 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 rare disease patients, and around 50% of cancer cases contain the potential for a therapy or a clinical trial.

Genomics England is now working with the NHS to deliver genomic testing for patients as part of routine healthcare and to provide the health data and technology researchers need to make new discoveries and create more effective, targeted medicines.

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