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Research Questions

  1. How did COG-UK deliver against its aims?
  2. What were the enablers and challenges the consortium experienced?
  3. What are the implications from the COG-UK experience for any potential future consortium phases and/or for other related pathogen genomics efforts?

The ability to sequence and understand different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and their impact is crucial to inform policy and public health decisions. Soon after the UK went into its first lockdown in March 2020, the CCOVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium was launched. COG-UK is a collaboration of experts in pathogen genomics including academic institutions, public health agencies, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, NHS Trusts and Lighthouse Labs. RAND Europe evaluated how COG-UK delivered against its objectives, for example how it contributed to advancing scientific knowledge about SARS-CoV-2, informing public health decisions, and providing information that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments. The evaluation also examined the diverse factors that influenced COG-UK progress and impact, including enablers and challenges, and considered implications for the future.

Key Findings

  • The consortium has helped advance scientific knowledge about SARS-CoV-2 and helped improve methodologies that can support high quality and efficient sequencing and pathogen genomics research and analysis.
  • COG-UK has also provided data and analytics that have informed key policy and public health decisions made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.
  • The sequencing and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes and the linkage of genomics data to epidemiological and patient outcomes data by COG-UK partners have informed medical innovation efforts, including research related to vaccine efficacy against specific variants of SARS-CoV-2
  • COG-UK's data, research analytics, and dissemination efforts have also influenced how decision makers in the UK value and view the field of pathogen genomics
  • COG-UK's resources and activities have strengthened capacity for pathogen genomics, which, if sustained, has the potential to significantly bolster the UK’s ability to prepare and respond to future infectious disease threats.
  • COG-UK's approach to supporting pathogen-genomics sequencing, research and analysis, and learning from COG-UK's experience has also influenced international SARS-CoV-2 sequencing initiatives.
  • The consortium's evolution and impact have been affected by features internal to its structure and operations, and by a rapidly evolving and unpredictable external environment.
  • More specifically, key influences related to (1) the ability to mobilise and sustain individual and institutional commitment to consortium activities, including responsiveness to increasing demand for sequencing activities; (2) financial resources, physical and data infrastructure and human resources; and (3) the ability to navigate challenges related to the speed and unpredictability with which the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.

Recommendations

COG-UK has made a significant and valuable contribution to the UK's public health genomics landscape. Its legacy will depend on decision makers' abilities to:

  • Deliver public health genomics capacity guided by a clear, prioritised, long-term strategic plan
  • Maintain momentum and motivation to support a network that can bring together diverse organisations across the four nations
  • Ensure the involvement of all relevant actors and a sustainable division of labour
  • Ensure adequately funded governance, management and administrative arrangements
  • Advance data linkage in the public health landscape
  • Revisit the UK's role in the global pathogen genomics landscape

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium and conducted by RAND Europe.

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