National consortium to examine the impacts of arising SARS-CoV-2 mutations
- Post By : Kumar Jeetendra
- Source: UK Research and Innovation
- Date: 16 Jan,2021
The’G2P-UK’ National Virology Consortium will study how mutations in the virus affect key outcomes like how transmissible it is, the seriousness of COVID-19 it causes, and the potency of vaccines and treatments.
The Consortium will bring together leading virologists from 10 research institutions. They will work together with the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which plays a world-leading role in virus genome sequencing, and Public Health England to boost the UK’s capacity to study newly identified virus variants and quickly inform government policy.
The consortium is led by Professor Wendy Barclay, from Imperial College London, who said:”The UK has been fantastic in sequencing viral genomes and identifying new variants – now we must understand which mutations affect the virus in a means that might impact our control strategies. We are already working to determine the impacts of the recent virus variations identified in the UK and South Africa and what that means for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and vaccine efficacy.
“Now the virus has circulated in humans for more than 1 year and is prevalent all around the world, we are in a stage where the virus is constantly throwing up new versions and we will need to gear up to assess the threat they pose, and to understand the mechanisms by which they act.”
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.”
Amanda Solloway, Science Minister
Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation, which funded the study, said:”One of the real strengths of the UK’s scientific response to the pandemic has been the way that researchers from all over the country have pooled their expertise to deliver big results, fast. This new national consortium will study the effects of emerging variations on transmission, disease severity, and vaccine effectiveness – building on the work of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, which has been so helpful in identifying new variants.
“This is critical research which will feed into government decision-making on a daily basis.”
Mutations in the virus’s genome occur naturally and some of these can be inconsequential, while others will change how it functions.
As new virus variants appear, the consortium will flag the riskiest variations, such as those associated with rapid spreading virus clusters, to study. They will also create standardised versions of the virus with and with no mutation, so that they can study the effects of each change individually.
Other teams in the consortium will then study how these new variants alter the virus proteins, especially the vital spike protein on the surface. This is important because changes to the spike protein may influence transmissibility and might potentially alter the effectiveness of vaccines and antibodies that target the protein.
The researchers will then use cell cultures and animal models to study if the virus mutations alter the immune response, virus transmissibility, the severity of the disease it causes, or the potency of vaccines and treatments.
The researchers will study how easily the virus variants transmit by direct contact or airborne routes in animal models. They may also study the effect on disease severity, such as lung damage and breathing impairment, which correlate with symptoms typical of human COVID-19.
Furthermore, they will determine whether mutations in the spike protein permit the virus to escape the immune response generated by either the vaccine or immune from earlier infection.
Professor Bryan Charleston, co-lead from BBSRC-sponsored The Pirbright Institute, stated:”We will need to know quickly whether new versions spread faster, cause more severe disease, escape resistance or infect other animals more readily.”
Professor Massimo Palmarini, co-lead from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said:”Recognizing the special properties of one SARS-CoV-2 variant requires experiments which can last several weeks. Hence, it is absolutely critical to perform studies on SARS-CoV-2 variants as a coordinated effort at the UK level.”
Professor Michael Malim, co-lead from King’s College London, said:”It is crucial for its strengths and breadth of UK virology to come together and develop an evidence-base to explain the biological impacts of viral variants, such as possible immunity to vaccine induced immunity, and advise the way we should react and plan for the future”
By assembling a streamlined, coordinated and publicly communicated programme, that works across the UK to research the latest virus mutations simultaneously in several labs with complimentary experimental procedures, the researchers aim to create faster, reliable results to feed into public health policy and clinical practice.