The project is led by Fernando González, Professor of Genetics at the University of Valencia and a researcher at the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology and FISABIO, and Iñaki Comas (Institute of Biomedicine of Valencia). It will involve more than 40 clinical microbiology units from hospitals throughout Spain and sequencing centres. The Global Health platform of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), co-financed by the MAPFRE Foundation, has selected the project, along with 11 others, as part of initiatives to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
The project Addressing unknowns of COVID-19 transmission and infection combining pathogen genomics and epidemiology to inform public health interventions has a budget of 740,800 euros, and aims to study the genomes of the new coronavirus of patients with Covid-19 disease to understand and predict its evolution and epidemiology in space and time.
The initiative will be carried out by researchers from the Institute of Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio), belonging to the CSIC and the University of Valencia; Institute of Biomedicine of Valencia (IBV), of the CSIC; as well as the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research (FISABIO) of the Valencian Government.
Iñaki Comas, CSIC scientist at the IBV and lead researcher of the project, explains that this project will allow the incorporation of genomic epidemiology as a tool to understand the course of the epidemic, how it originated and how it is evolving over time and in space. It also stresses that this research not only has an academic aspect, but also poses the challenge of generating results that serve to inform public health authorities. Fernando González Candelas, researcher at I2SysBio and FISABIO, has highlighted the geographical scale of the project that encompasses hospitals throughout Spain and notes that “while there is a general affectation by COVID-19, the reality is that each community is in a different epidemic phase and therefore medium-term solutions must be different”.
The generated data will be deposited in public repositories, as well as on the global NextStrain platform (nextstrain.org) from which a Spanish node that is already integrating the Spanish data sequences (nextspain.uv.es) has been derived. The platform implements very powerful visualisation tools to be able to follow the evolution of the virus in space and time. Both researchers responsible for the project, specialists in genomic epidemiology, highlight the potency of the combination of genomic data, clinical microbiology, epidemiology and phylogenetics. “Genomic epidemiology will represent infectious diseases in the twenty-first century, after representing vaccines in the nineteenth century or antibiotics in the twentyeth century”, added Iñaki Comas.
Interdisciplinary Theme Platform (PTI)
This project has been funded, together with 11 others, by the CSIC’s Interdisciplinary Theme Platform (PTI), in which more than 150 research groups collaborate and are supported by the MAPFRE Foundation. Jesús Marco, Vice President of Scientific and Technical Research at CSIC, stressed that “one of the keys to this GLOBAL Health ITP is to have a global vision that makes it possible to link all aspects of the pandemic: origin, prevention, disease, measures of containment, treatment, social impact, and finally the need for communication to society, particularly in education”. The platform, promoted from the Vice Presidency of Scientific and Technical Research of the CSIC, is coordinated by the researcher of the Severo Ochoa Centre for Molecular Biology (CBMSO) Margarita del Val, supported by a committee of experts in the different areas involved .