UK surpasses 500,000 genomically sequenced coronavirus (COVID-19) tests
Genomic sequencing has made a crucial contribution to the fight against the virus by quickly identifying variants of concern, understanding transmission and slowing their spread.
Sequencing provides invaluable data that will support decisions to relax social distancing in the future and help monitor future variants and threats of infectious diseases.
The UK today (Sunday, June 27) surpassed more than half a million positive genomically sequenced coronavirus (COVID-19) tests, as the UK’s testing program continues to ramp up.
The strength of the UK base in genomic science and the diagnostic sequencing industry has enabled the UK to rapidly identify COVID-19 variants and capture critical data that has helped track and maintain a a step ahead of mutations in the virus genome. The UK is estimated to contribute around 50% of all sequencing shared for comparison around the world.
Genomic sequencing is a laboratory analysis that identifies the genetic makeup of a virus, allowing the detection of new variants or mutations in existing variants. Achieving this milestone is a testament to the UK’s extraordinary genomics expertise and the efforts of researchers, laboratory scientists and analysts, clinicians and policy makers.
Thanks to the UK’s global genomic sequencing capacity, cases of the Delta variant (B1.617.2) were quickly detected, along with other variants of concern. This allowed the government to quickly deploy additional support in areas where variants of concern were prevalent, such as surge testing and improved contact tracing, to help slow the spread of variants by breaking chains of transmission.
Innovation Minister Lord Bethell said:
From Fred Sanger to the present day, the UK has a proud tradition of developing genetic and genomic technologies that improve the lives of patients across the country and around the world.
This milestone is a testament to the hard work, dedication and genius of researchers and laboratory scientists across the country, as well as those on the front lines of our fight against this miserable virus.
It is vital that we not only maintain, but develop our global leadership in genomics and do all we can to unleash its enormous potential.
The British public have played their part at every stage of this pandemic and I urge everyone to do their part by getting tested when asked to do so, so that we can continue to detect new and worrying variants and to protect ourselves and our communities as restrictions ease. .
Surge tests have been deployed in specific areas across the country to monitor and suppress the spread of COVID-19 and to better understand the new variants. Genomic sequencing is a key part of advanced testing because it allows scientists to continue to identify variants of concern, as well as any changes to known variants or to identify new emerging variants that need to be followed. All positive tests with a sufficiently high viral load in postal codes from surge tests and identified test sites will be sent for sequencing.
In addition to surge testing, the government is providing additional support packages to stop the spread of the Delta variant, which includes support for those who self-isolate and activity to maximize vaccination in the region. This was quickly rolled out to areas such as Bedford, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire and Birmingham.
To increase our readiness and strengthen our defenses against the new variants, we have supported a new technology for the detection of known variants, known as “genotype testing assay”, which detects mutations that indicate known variants of concern as well. shortly after 48 hours of COVID-positive. 19 Result of the PCR test. Genotype assay tests should be used after PCR, and in order to detect the maximum number of cases with variants, the government uses confirmatory PCR tests for positive LFD test results in England during times of low prevalence. Confirmatory tests are used to validate the result of the initial LFD rapid test.
The virus will continue to evolve naturally as it spreads around the world, but the UK will continue to use its excellent genomics, epidemiology and virology capabilities to monitor all variants to ensure that interventions of public health are effective and proportionate.
UKHSA Executive Director Jenny Harries said:
Genome sequencing has been one of the most versatile tools in our arsenal in the battle against COVID-19, and as we move forward on the roadmap, its role has only increased – helping us to keep up with the mutations in the virus and to act decisively to prevent cases from becoming epidemics.
The UK has shared its exceptional genomic capabilities with the world during this global pandemic and our expertise in this area will be at the heart of our mission at the UK Health Security Agency.
Each sequenced genome helps us outsmart viruses by arming the government and our scientists with reliable data and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to bring us to this fantastic milestone.
Genome sequencing process
Genomic sequencing has been essential in detecting and responding to emerging strains of COVID-19 and variants of concern. Public Health England (PHE) has been closely monitoring the evolution of COVID-19 over time with new variants, improving the understanding of how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus and using this information to assess the increased transmissibility of new strains.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium was formed to provide rapid and large-scale whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centers and government. Data collected by the consortium has helped public health agencies better manage the outbreak in the UK and inform vaccine development efforts. Sequencing is now carried out through a program within UKHSA building on the work of COG-UK.
Following sequencing, data from the virus genome is combined with clinical and epidemiological data sets to help guide public health interventions and policies in the UK. In the future, this information will allow the evaluation of new treatments and non-pharmacological interventions and provide information on community transmission and epidemics. This data will also allow researchers to identify and assess emerging genetic changes in known variants and examine how they affect the ability of the virus to pass from person to person.
An essential part of our genomic surveillance is to support global security by testing people traveling abroad. PHE scientists upload variant sequence information to GISAID, alerting other countries to the presence of variants in different parts of the world.
The UK New Variant Assessment Program is already supporting countries using UK genome sequencing technology to detect new variants, providing them with technical support and training their scientists.
British leadership in genomics
British research has led to paradigm-shifting discoveries in genetics – from the original discovery of DNA structure to our involvement in the Human Genome Project.
The UK has also led the way in translating basic research into clinical practice and improving patient outcomes. It is also home to an extensive genomics and health research infrastructure, from the UK Biobank, established in 2006 to Genomics England, the NHS England and the Improvement Genomic Medicine Service (GMS).
Genomics is just one example of this government’s commitment to advancing innovation in healthcare in the UK, which will play a central role in its future health resilience, the growth of its life sciences sector and measures to improve patient care.
An up-to-date list of areas where surge testing is currently being deployed is available.