CLIMB COVID Big Data Project Gets £1.2M Boost for Sequencing Global Coronavirus Genomes

Just a few months ago, the UK’s COVID-19 Genomics consortium (COG-UK) won the 2020 HPCwire Readers’ Choice Award for Best HPC Collaboration. Throughout the pandemic, the consortium has been working to deliver real-time, large-scale SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing to hospitals and other stakeholders in the UK with the support of the CLIMB COVID big data project. Now, thanks to a £1.2 million (~$1.6 million) grant, CLIMB COVID will be able to expand to a global level.

The COG-UK consortium is a collaboration between the National Health Service, other public health agencies, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and more than a dozen academic partners. Last March, CLIMB COVID branched off from the existing CLIMB-BIG-DATA project (a five-year initiative to deliver large-scale bioinformatics) in order to handle the massive genomic data produced by COG-UK, to data sequencing more than 150,000 genomes.

Now, it’s time for CLIMB COVID to climb out of the nest. With most countries not having enjoyed the same robust sequencing as the UK, the project is using the £1.2 award to expand its infrastructure (currently powered by DDN, Dell and Lenovo, among others) in preparation for accommodating genomic data from around the world.

“This funding will be transformative to pay for additional capacity to permit us to offer our SARS-CoV-2 analysis infrastructure to a global audience,” said Nick Loman, a professor of microbial genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Birmingham, one of the academic institutions supporting COG-UK and CLIMB COVID. 

“We anticipate being able to help support the sequencing efforts of many countries who may have limited computing resources by offering our cloud-based system which can be accessed from anywhere. Researchers can see how genomes from their local population relate to the hundreds of thousands of others collected around the world easily. By allowing a global audience to benefit from the new CLIMB resources we can help facilitate equitable data sharing for fighting COVID-19,” Loman said.

The funding comes as part of a £213 million (~$289 million) investment by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which is part of the UK government. The researchers are hoping that in a post-pandemic world, research like theirs continues to be supported in service of fighting other pressing diseases.

“SARS-CoV-2 provides a great example of the relevance and power of genomics to track and characterise pathogens in real time,” said Thomas Connor, a professor in the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, another COG-UK-supporting institution. “There are many other pathogens which are globally significant, and which would benefit from a global collaborative platform – and we are looking forward to being able to support global genomics efforts for other many of these key pathogens.”

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