Crick researchers to study the threats of new SARS-CoV-2 variants

A COVID-19 virus particle

Image of the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) (CDC)

- CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM / Public domain

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute are taking part in a new national research project to study the effects of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. 

The research is part of the ‘G2P-UK’ National Virology Consortium, which has launched today with £2.5 million of funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The Consortium, which brings together leading virologists from 10 UK research institutions, will study new mutations in the virus. They will flag the riskiest variants as they arise, such as those associated with fast spreading virus clusters, and will create versions of the virus with and without each mutation, so they can study the effects of each change individually.

They will find out how and understand why these variants differ, including in regards to: how transmissible they are, the severity of COVID-19 they cause and the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments against them.

Rupert Beale, co-project lead at the Crick and group leader of the Cell Biology of Infection Laboratory says: “New variants in this virus are arising all the time, but only a tiny minority are significant for the pandemic. One of those, a more transmissible variant called B.1.1.7 is now dominating the pandemic in the UK. This crucial initiative is designed to analyse new variants of concern as they arise, and to determine whether they transmit better, evade immunity or cause different disease patterns in experimental models.”

Kate Bishop, co-project lead at the Crick and group leader of the Retroviral Replication Laboratory says: “This new project is an exciting collaboration for the UK virology community, with talented virologists joining forces and using their shared expertise to study this virus from many angles. Over the course of this pandemic, many scientific and medical advances have been made by researchers working closely together and this project is a great example of further collaboration.”
David LV Bauer, co-project lead at the Crick and group leader of the RNA Virus Replication Laboratory says: “Recent weeks have shown the harm new virus variants can cause. Working together across labs in the UK means that we can move faster, with more resources to conduct experiments simultaneously. This puts us in a position to more quickly identify how variants differ and find their strengths and vulnerabilities – something that is especially important as the vaccine rollout gets underway.”  

By setting up a streamlined and coordinated programme, that operates across the UK to study the latest virus mutations simultaneously in several labs with complimentary experimental methods, the researchers aim to produce faster, reliable results to feed into public health policy and clinical practice.

The other institutes within the consortium are: Imperial College London, The Pirbright Institute, King’s College London, University of Glasgow, University of Bristol, University of Liverpool, UCL, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge. The researchers will work alongside the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium and Public Health England.

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