Welsh Government
Wales takes part in ground-breaking genetics study in the fight against COVID-19

Wales takes part in ground-breaking genetics study in the fight against COVID-19

13 May 2020

Wales is taking part in a major new genetics study of COVID-19, led by the partnership between the GenOMICC Study Consortium (led by the University of Edinburgh) and Genomics England. The study, announced by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, on 13 May, will help us better understand the virus’ varied effects on people and support the search for treatments.

Thousands of people severely ill with COVID-19, including those currently or previously in an intensive care unit, will have their genetic code studied to help scientists understand whether a person’s genetics may influence their susceptibility to the virus.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s GenOMICC project, will work together with Genomics England and over 170 NHS hospitals including those in Wales. Health and Care Research Wales is nationally coordinating study set-up and recruitment in Aneurin Bevan, Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf Morgannwg, Swansea Bay, Betsi Cadwaladr and Hywel Dda University Health Boards. The study aims to sequence the genomes of 20,000 people who are severely ill with COVID-19. In Wales, 100 patients have been recruited to the GenOMICC study already.

The data collected by health boards in Wales and others will be compared to that from a further 15,000 COVID-19 patients who experienced only mild symptoms. This data will be collected from participants in the 100,000 Genomes Project and UK Biobank.

Professor Kieran Walshe, Director of Health and Care Research Wales, said:

“It is vital that we learn as much about COVID-19 as possible so that we can provide the most effective treatments and care for all patients.

“This ground-breaking research may help us to find out why some patients experience a mild infection, while others need intensive care treatment and why some sadly die.

“Through research, we can discover the evidence needed to give all patients the best possible outcome.”

Dr Matt Morgan, Health and Care Research Wales specialty lead for critical care in Wales, said:

"We should all be very proud that despite the immense challenges, intensive care units throughout Wales have been leading contributors to research trials aimed at understanding COVID-19. Saving lives requires not just ventilators and hospital beds, but high-quality research done collaboratively. Without this research, we will not be able to understand, prevent or treat life threatening diseases including COVID-19. Research matters, now more than ever.”

Dr Tamas Szakmany, Consultant in Adult Critical Care and Anaesthesia, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said: 

“GenOMICC is a straightforward study to set up and recruit into with the help of local research and development teams and Health and Care Research Wales. I’d like to encourage every critical care unit in Wales to participate, so we can have important answers about the differences in genetic susceptibility for COVID-19 disease.”

Dr Kenneth Baillie, Chief Investigator on the GenOMICC study, said:

"Our genes play a role in determining who becomes desperately sick with infections like COVID-19. Understanding these genes will help us to choose treatments for clinical trials. The GenOMICC study has been running since 2016, and has been investigating genetic factors that impact how patients fare in response to a number of severe illnesses. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, and with the tremendous support of the UK critical care community, the study has expanded and accelerated enormously, and we are now recruiting in over 170 ICUs across the country. I am delighted to be working with Health and Care Research Wales to deliver this important work.”

The Health and Care Research Wales COVID-19 research in Wales webpage has details of all related research studies that are active, or in set up, in Wales.

For further information, please contact the communications team at Health and Care Research Wales: healthandcareresearch@wales.nhs.uk