The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR) is at the heart of COVID-19 research response in Scotland and the UK.
Covid-19 is a new disease in humans, caused by a member of the coronavirus family of viruses. Thought to have originated in bats, it was first recorded in humans in China in late 2019, and can cause a fever, cough and breathing problems. Experts currently think around 80% of cases are mild, however a small portion of infected people go on to have complications such as pneumonia, and require a period of hospitalisation.
So far, it has spread to most countries around the world, and has already affected more than 300,000 people, several thousands in the UK. The WHO currently estimate the death rate at 3.4%, however scientists believe the real mortality rate may be lower as there is evidence that not everyone with mild forms of the disease have been tested.
Scientists at the CVR are working in partnership with colleagues across the UK on a range of research areas related to the new coronavirus, including working closely with colleagues in Public Health England to understand linkages across the UK in an effort to shut down ongoing transmission in real-time. Research areas include fundamental studies to understand the nature of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes COVID-19, genomic sequencing and bioinformatics analyses of the virus from patient samples, and the identification of potential therapies.
On the 23 March the CVR was named as one of 13 key centres in a pan-UK alliance of scientists, working on COVID-19 whole genome sequencing. One of only two facilities involved in Scotland, the CVR will play a key role in the new £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. The consortium is backed by the government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser and is comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, The Wellcome Sanger Institute, and 13 academic institutions, including the University of Glasgow.
The CVR will use its labs to sequence the genome of the virus from confirmed Scottish patients, and work with partners to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves in populations around the UK. It is hoped that the genetic code could arm public health agencies and clinicians with a unique, cutting-edge tool to combat COVID-19.
The CVR has also been announced as playing a key role in new COVID-19 scientific project, led by the University of Edinburgh which has received £4.9m of rapid response government funding to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The project seek to increase our understanding of COVID-19 and its impact on the body.
Professor Massimo Palmarini, Director of the CVR, said: “The CVR and its scientists are at the centre of Scotland’s – and the UK’s – response to the current coronavirus outbreak. As the largest group of virologists in the UK with the facilities to handle samples from infected patients, we are well placed to conduct pivotal research into emerging diseases such as COVID-19.
“In the coming weeks and months, our scientists will continue to work in collaboration with NHS Scotland, sequencing the virus, as well as conducting further research into SARS-CoV-2, its mechanisms of action and potential therapies.”
In early March 2020, CVR scientists working in partnership with the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, rapidly sequenced the virus from the first COVID-19 patient confirmed in Scotland.