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Critical role for UCL’s Covid-19 sequencing lab as air travel continues to open up

4 June 2021

UCL’s next generation sequencing (NGS) facility will analyse positive Covid-19 tests from travellers arriving at UK airports: By identifying new SARS-CoV-2 variants, UCL scientists will play a key role in the UK Government’s Covid Recovery plan.

UCL scientists will analyse positive Covid-19 tests from travellers arriving at UK airports

Today, UCL Genomics has been announced as a scientific partner of Halo, a Covid-19 testing company contracted by the government to provide saliva-based RT-qPCR tests on passengers landing in the UK. 

UCL’s Pathogen Genomic Unit (part of UCL Genomics) will carry out rapid sequencing of viruses testing positive to identify Variants of Concern (VoC) and Variants Under Investigation (VoI).

As part of this partnership, the Francis Crick Institute will work with Halo to consent subjects for use of samples and data when new mutations and variants of interest are identified by UCL.

This world-class collaboration will enable rapid characterisation of potential new variants and enable scientists to track and understand their virulence and transmissibility.

Professor Judy Breuer, Director of UCL’s Pathogen Genomics Unit, said: “The ability of our scientists to sequence thousands of coronavirus genomes is quick time and spot new variants is an essential ‘tool in the box’, as the UK and the world aims to get back to normal.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Halo, enabling us to test Covid-19 samples from passengers landing in the UK from around the world, and using our rapid sequencing facilities to identify the next Variants of Concern and Variants Under Investigation.”

As a result of the pandemic, the UK Government* has bought in a series of COVID-19 testing requirements for both inbound and outbound international passengers.

Jonathan Biles, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at HALO said: “As much as we all want COVID-19 to be behind us, the reality is that we’re going to be living with its impact for years, not months. Tracking, identifying and understanding new variants, particularly those developing in countries without widespread vaccination programmes, is now our first line of defence in protecting ourselves and overcoming the virus.

“HALO’s front-line testing of travellers feeds directly into UCL Genomics’ sequencing capability and consequently into a research collaboration between HALO, UCL Genomics and The Francis Crick Institute. HALO’s private sector skillset and resources combined with the world leading scientific knowhow of UCL Genomics and The Francis Crick Institute is a unique and world beating combination.”

* UK Government: Travel Abroad, step-by-step guide 



  •   'Airport - person - airport - COVID19', credit geraldfriedrich2 on Pixabay. CC BY 2.0

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Henry Killworth

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