Genome Canada has launched a $40-million national network to help public health authorities understand how the virus that causes COVID-19 works, how it evolves and why people experience such different health outcomes.
Led by Genome Canada, the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN) is partnering with the six regional Genome Centres, national and provincial public health labs, genome sequencing centres through CGEn (a federally funded national platform for genome sequencing and analysis), hospitals, universities and the private sector. Funding was announced April 23 as part of the federal government’s $1.1-billion investment in medical research and vaccine development to combat the virus and prepare for future pandemics.
One of the main goals of the sequencing is to identify the tiny genetic differences – in both humans and in the SARS-CoV 2 virus which cases COVID-19 – that may explain why some infected people fall victim to this disease more severely than others. Unravelling that mystery would help to identify those at highest risk for COVID-19.
CanCOGeN will launch two projects aimed at coordinating and scaling up existing genomics-based COVID-19 research in Canada and internationally.
The first will involve sequencing the genomes of up to 10,000 patients and 150,000 viral samples and building a bank of “virus to patient” data that will inform decision-making by public health authorities and support the development of therapies and vaccines.
CanCOGeN will also establish and manage a framework for cross-Canada safe data sharing, coordination and analysis. The data – described as “accessible and readily usable” – will be shared with national and international collaborators. Guidelines, protocols and data quality controls will be streamlined across Canada.
The McGill Genome Centre, one of the partners in CanCOGeN, noted that while the SARS-CoV-2 genetic code was first identified in January, finding the small differences in viral sequences that appear over time and many cycles of replication can help to understand patterns of spread in the Quebec and Canadian communities.
The McGill centre is also leading the Biobank Quebec COVID-19. Launched April 1, the Biobank is currently collecting samples from COVID-19 patients across the province for genome sequencing and other primary research.
A search is currently on for a CanCOGeN director – a two-year position reporting to Genome Canada’s executive VP corporate development. The closing date for priority selections is May 21.