A large-scale study, led by UCL and funded by the European Commission, will use data from 23 countries to detect and better understand emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, with the aim of supporting countries’ responses to Covid-19 and future pandemics.
The three-year project, known as END-VOC (ENDing COVID-19 Variants Of concern through Cohort studies), will draw on data from 28 already established cohort studies in 23 countries, working with 19 partners around the world.
Professor Ibrahim Abubakar (Dean, UCL Faculty of Population Health Sciences), who is principal investigator of the study, said: “Detecting emerging Covid-19 variants of concern, and understanding their implications on diagnostics, vaccination strategies and treatment options is key to guiding our response to the virus.
“Our objective is to add new knowledge on these variants by bringing together cohorts in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia and collaborating with other consortia to achieve impact beyond Europe and beyond Covid-19.”
The three-year project will focus on five key areas: i) detecting and characterising emerging viral variants; evaluating their capacity to ii) evade vaccine-induced immunity or cause reinfections, iii) escape current treatments, iv) cause long Covid; as well as v) providing recommendations to better prepare and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks.
The study will use new tools to predict how SARS-CoV-2 variants might evolve, when these variants are likely to cause long Covid, and how they might affect different groups of people. By evaluating the impact of new variants on the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments, the research will seek to guide responses to future outbreaks.
At UCL, Professor Rob Aldridge (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) will lead on the long Covid aspect of the project; Professor Francois Balloux (UCL Genetics Institute) will lead work on sequencing and phylogenetics, as well as transmissibility; Professor Judith Breuer (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health) will provide expertise in genomic sequencing of variants of concern; and Dr Lucy van Dorp (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment) will support work in virology and genomics.
The END-VOC consortium consists of 19 partners with cohorts in Europe (UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Switzerland), South America (Brazil and Peru), Africa (Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria and 13 countries in the ANTICOV trial), Middle East (Palestine) and Asia (India, Pakistan, Philippines).
The project is funded with nearly €10 million (£8.5 million) from the European Commission.