CGEn will receive $20 million in Federal funding to sequence the genomes of thousands of Canadians, in order to better understand the variable clinical response to COVID-19.
April 23, 2020 – OTTAWA, Ontario – Following an announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Federal Government is committing $40 million to support Genome Canada’s launch of the newly formed Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN). This investment includes $20 million in funding to CGEn, Canada’s national facility for genome sequencing and analysis, to lead a nation-wide Host Genome Sequencing Initiative with the aim to sequence genomes of 10,000 Canadians affected by COVID-19.
As the national and global data on the infection and disease burden evolve, the risk factors for severe illness are still being established. Older patients and those with chronic medical conditions appear to have higher risk, although disease severity varies among individuals with similar levels of exposure. This implies an important role played by the human host genome in response to the virus.
“This investment will allow CGEn to harness the power of our Canadian genomics infrastructure to explore the genetic architecture of the human genome”. said Dr. Naveed Aziz, Chief Administrative & Chief Scientific Officer at CGEn. “Canada’s COVID-19 Host Genome Sequencing Initiative promises to generate new knowledge and provide much-needed data to support diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of this devastating pandemic, and those that will surely follow”.
CGEn’s team of renowned researchers from across Canada will work together to decode the genomes of thousands of Canadians across the country, who have been infected with the virus causing COVID-19, or are still at risk of infection. CGEn will develop and bring access to an information-rich, national database which will serve as a resource to catalyze national and international research to help determine why people experience vastly different health outcomes.
“The emergence of COVID-19 at the footsteps of SARS and MERS highlights a significant issue – that there will be similar outbreaks of severe infectious disease in the future. This investment from the Government of Canada addresses the current COVID-19 outbreak, prepares Canada for a possible re-emergence, and lays the foundation to handle future pandemics”, says Dr. Stephen Scherer, CGEn Principal Investigator and Professor of Genome Sciences at the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto.
Canada’s COVID-19 Host Genome Sequencing Initiative will be led by CGEn, a national platform for genome sequencing and analysis, developed to be response-ready to large-scale Canadian scientific challenges. CGEn has already developed regional, national, and international linkages to ensure that this project will have maximal impact for the health of Canadians.
“CGEn brings to the CanCOGeN partnership table the ability to undertake host genome sequencing on an unprecedented scale. Understanding the disease burden – why in some cases people get very sick and others do not – is essential in helping us identify individuals at highest risk and take proactive measures to protect them and the frontline workers treating them. These measures could include more targeted, patient-specific therapies as well as better public health policies in preparation for secondary waves or future pandemics,” said Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada.
“CGEn scientists were the first to sequence the SARS genome in 2003 and determine it to be a coronavirus. This funding will further Canada’s salient contributions to our understanding of the genetic interactions and genomics of coronavirus infection” said Dr. Steven Jones, Principal Investigator CGEn-Vancouver node and Co-Director & Head, Bioinformatics, Genome Sciences Centre, while Mark Lathrop, Principal Investigator CGEn-Montreal node and Professor, Human Genetics, McGill University added “This initiative highlights the importance of the government’s investments in national research infrastructures such as CGEn which are necessary to assure that Canada can respond to globally important challenges including health dangers such as COVID-19”.