Evaluating the progress and impacts of the COG-UK consortium

Blue coronavirus cells and DNA, illustration by matejmo/Getty Images

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An evaluation of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium finds that it has made a significant and valuable contribution to the UK's public health genomics landscape, but its legacy will depend on decision makers' abilities to maintain momentum, ensure adequate governance, and other factors.

What is the issue?

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium was set up to provide data, analysis, tools, and research that can help advance understanding of genetic changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19, and to help guide public health decision making and policy relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. COG-UK is a collaborative effort between academic institutions, the United Kingdom’s four public health agencies, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Lighthouse Labs and National Health Service (NHS) Trusts.

RAND Europe was commissioned by COG-UK to evaluate its progress and to help it understand how the consortium is delivering against its aims, in terms of its outputs, outcomes and impacts.

How did we help?

To assess how COG-UK contributed to the UK’s pandemic response, we developed a theory of change for the consortium, i.e. an understanding of what the consortium set out to achieve and how, and an associated evaluation framework and evaluation indicators.

We collected and analysed self-reported qualitative and quantitative data and conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with representatives of diverse organisations involved with COG-UK activity across academic, public health agencies and NHS-related stakeholders, as well as some external stakeholders within funding, policymaking and international-expert communities.

The evaluation identified diverse outputs and impacts from COG-UK activity and also examined what influenced COG-UK progress and impact, including enablers and challenges. Our cross-analysis and synthesis of the findings provide deep and rich insights into COG-UK’s experiences and help to provide key lessons for any future phases of the consortium and/or other related efforts.

What did we find?

  • 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 patient outcomes have informed medical innovation efforts.
  • 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 has also influenced international SARS-CoV-2 pathogen-genomics sequencing initiatives.

What should be considered?

COG-UK has made a significant and valuable contribution to the UK’s public health genomics landscape. However, what needs to be sustained is not necessarily the network as it operated during the evaluation timeframe, but the ecosystem that has been built around it. COG-UK’s legacy will depend on decision makers’ abilities to:

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