A new national research project to study the effects of emerging mutations in SARS-CoV-2 will be launched with £2.5m funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The G2P-UK National Virology Consortium will study how mutations in the virus affect key outcomes such as how transmissible it is, the severity of COVID-19 it causes and the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments.
The consortium will bring together virologists from 10 research institutions. They will work alongside the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium and Public Health England to boost the UK’s capacity to study newly identified virus variants and rapidly inform government policy.
The consortium is led by Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College London.
She said: “The UK has been fantastic in sequencing viral genomes and identifying new variants – now we have to better understand which mutations affect the virus in a way that might affect our control strategies.
“We are already working to determine the effects of the recent virus variants identified in the UK and South Africa and what that means for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and vaccine effectiveness.
“Now the virus has circulated in humans for more than one year and is prevalent all around the world, we’re in a phase where the virus is constantly throwing up new variants and we need to gear up to assess the risk they pose, and to understand the mechanisms by which they act.”
Science minister Amanda Solloway added: “The UK has a world class genomics capability, and it is thanks to the work of our leading medical scientists and researchers that our scientists have been able to identify new variants of coronavirus at speed.
“This crucial new research project will help us to understand not only the extent to which these new variants spread and their risks, but also how resistant they are to vaccines and treatments, so that we can tailor our response to help defeat this virus once and for all.”
As well as Imperial College London, institutions involved in the project include The Pirbright Institute, King’s College London, University of Glasgow, University of Bristol, University of Liverpool, UCL, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute.