Largest Study to Date of COVID-19 Susceptibility Launched

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A new study of COVID-19 patients intended to identify genomic and other biological factors of patient susceptibility was launched yesterday by the Hannover Medical School in Germany, with support from a range of genomics and technology companies including Rescale, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Bionano Genomics, Genoox, and other companies associated with Tech Against Covid.

Researchers will launch the study involving 1,000 patients and controls— consisting of COVID-19 patients and their partners and first-degree relatives as controls—to compare a variety of genomic and other biological variables between those patients who show no or mild symptoms and those who show severe illness. Partners have typically been intensely exposed to the same strain of the virus as the patients, and differences in disease severity can be caused by genetic variation.

The study will control for viral strain differences, and for the known risk factors of age and chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes, or other immune-compromising disease.

“The unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 requires the world’s top technology leaders to team up to fight for a vaccine,” said Shawn Hansen, COO of high-performance cloud computing platform Rescale, in a press release. “Now that cloud supercomputing resources have become available at no cost, leaders like Bionano (Genomics) are proving they can accomplish in hours what would have previously required days. We hope other market leaders will join the Tech Against Covid initiative to learn more about how they can accelerate research using cloud computing.”

Tech Against Covid is an initiative led by Rescale, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to offer supercomputing power to researchers, along with necessary end-to-end simulation tools, at no cost, to teams working to develop test kits and vaccines for COVID-19.

Study participants will have their genomes analyzed using next-generation sequencing (NGS), and Bionano Genetics’ Genome Imaging technology. Additionally, the study participants will undergo analysis of their transcriptome to look at gene expression, their metabolome, and a variety of immune markers such as cytokines and T-cell response. The goal of the study is to identify genomic variants that affect the disease, and immune or metabolic variables in the healthier participants that can protect against more severe disease, and to use this knowledge for the development of novel therapies and vaccines.

“We believe that this study to identify genomic variants that influence the COVID-19 disease progression and intensity is an important step in the development of novel, targeted, antiviral therapies or vaccines,” said Erik Holmlin, Ph.D., CEO of Bionano Genomics. “We believe that Bionano’s genome imaging technology is the only technology capable of detecting the structural variants that could protect against or predispose patients to the viral infection. After the first study started in the initial epicenter of the epidemic in Wuhan, we are now expanding the scope to other geographical areas including Europe. The research team will make the results from these studies available to the medical and research community, with the hope to help bring this global pandemic to a halt.”

The study involves the teams of Dr. Doris Steinemann and Dr. Thomas Illig, who are part of the Resolving Infection Susceptibility (RESIST) Cluster which specifically focuses on the study of genomic variants that protect or predispose to infectious disease.

A number of companies have committed to supporting this study as part of a global Tech Against Covid initiative. Bionano is donating the consumables needed to analyze the structural variants in the samples. Rescale, the High-Performance Computing cloud platform fully integrated with Saphyr, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), a leading provider of on-demand cloud computing, are donating compute time for the Bionano data analysis. Genoox, the platform for annotation and classification of genomic variants, will donate its compute resources to analyze the NGS data combined with Bionano’s structural variation calls for an integrated analysis of small and large genomic variants.

“In the past 18 years, novel coronaviruses have triggered two epidemics and the current COVID-19 pandemic, of which the full extent still can’t be predicted,” Thomas Illig, head of the Hannover Biobank. “Rapid measures are required to stop the current pandemic and to better prepare ourselves for new coronaviruses in the long term. The Hannover Medical School and our teams at the RESIST cluster are ready to rapidly deploy this large, most powerful study on the human body’s fight against COVID-19.“

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