DNA gets a new and bigger genetic alphabet
The viral genome sequencing was performed on 1,067 nasopharyngeal swab samples collected in Abu Dhabi between May and June 2020. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Healthcare, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi-based Group 42, has conducted a SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing study that has identified the genomic source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will help determine the spread and evolution patterns of the virus since the disease was first recorded in the UAE. The entire study will be published as scientific paper, which is now in final stages of production.

The study also provides additional insights for sustainable screening of the SARS-CoV-2 dynamics and will help the country better prepare for future outbreaks.

By analysing the effect of community infections on the spread of COVID-19 in the UAE, researchers can better understand the viral mutations and gain insights into their role in sustaining the pandemic despite the stringent control measures put in place by health authorities.

One of the key objectives of this longitudinal study is to assess the potential emergence of a more virulent subtype and its potential effect on the country’s infection control strategies as the pandemic progresses. This is particularly timely and important considering the new, more infectious strain of the virus discovered in the UK, underlining the role of predictive analysis and data in enhancing response to the pandemic.

The viral genome sequencing was performed on 1,067 nasopharyngeal swab samples collected in Abu Dhabi between May and June 2020, in accordance with the local regulation and under the guidance of the Department of Health (DoH), Abu Dhabi. The analysis revealed unique genetic variations specific to the UAE virus strains and the patterns of the virus’s introduction.

Results from this study will in turn translate into improvements in diagnostic accuracy and sensitivity. This might lead to re-designing of new PCR primers, that can be added into current primer pools, to target potential new viral mutations that might today be absent in imported kits currently on the market.

Ashish Koshy, CEO of G42 Healthcare, said: "Our latest endeavour strengthens our commitment to ensure impactful public healthcare solutions in the fight against the pandemic and raise the bar when it comes to accurate and reliable testing.

"For this study, we have capitalised on our strength of unparalleled genomics solutions, which is a key driver of the population genome program launched by G42 Healthcare in December 2019 under the guidance of the Department of Health, and that aims to create a reference genome specific to UAE citizens to enable a predictive, preventive and personalized healthcare system in the country.

"Our genomics technology and scalable expertise strongly support the UAE’s national genome project, while also underpinning our groundbreaking work during the pandemic, which has enabled us to create unmatched solutions that will change the face of the healthcare sector for the better."

A key player in the race to find a solution to the global pandemic, G42 Healthcare provided the technology to generate relevant and insightful data for this study. Harnessing the power of AI and a well-established genomics lab, the project was furnished with short read sequencing technologies and the cloud computing resources required for the massive throughput of data.

G42 Healthcare is also the facilitator of the first Phase III trials of an inactivated vaccine for COVID-19 in the pan-Arab region, with over 43,000 volunteers from 125 nationalities participating in the trials that was launched in the UAE on 16 July 2020.