An innovative multi-partner program
The Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and its partners are launching a program to improve the surveillance of COVID-19 variants through comprehensive monitoring of SARS-CoV-2. The objective is to quickly identify the genetic mutations of the virus, to identify the variants and to determine their impact on the transmission, the severity of the disease and the response to vaccines, in order to support the Government of Quebec in the management of the disease. pandemic.
Led by the INSPQ Public Health Laboratory in conjunction with the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) and Génome Québec, the variant surveillance program aims to sequence 65,000 samples positive for SARS-CoV-2 by the end of of the year 2021. The McGill Genome Center, the National Microbiology Laboratory and several researchers are also collaborating on the project.
With a budget totaling $ 11.1 million, the program is financially supported by the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services to the tune of $ 6.3 million, to which is added $ 2.5 million from the FRQ to support studies, which aim to characterize the impacts of mutations in the virus, as well as $ 2.3 million from Genome Canada through its Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network for the sequencing and identification of variants.
Track variants of interest
Thanks to this multi-partner program, Quebec becomes a leader in variant surveillance in Canada, ensuring complete monitoring of the impact of variants, from virus sequencing to epidemiological analyzes and laboratory research to assess the effect. of these changes on the behavior of the virus.
It should be remembered that at present, eight cases of the British variant B.1.1.7 have been confirmed in Quebec. In this context, it becomes important to intensify the surveillance of variants to prevent a resurgence of the epidemic.
Since April 2020, approximately 7,000 positive samples have been sequenced in Quebec thanks to Genome Canada’s CanCoGen SARS-CoV-2 project, which represents approximately 3% of all positive samples.
The Quebec program will make it possible to identify these variants more quickly by sequencing more samples that are positive for SARS-CoV-2. The objective is to reach 10% of the sequenced positive samples, thus ensuring rapid detection of the emergence of the variants of concern of the virus.
The Quebec Public Health Laboratory coordinates all of the sequencing. Experts from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec will also conduct epidemiological studies to identify the variants likely to increase the transmission or severity of the disease, affect the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments or even promote re-infections.
Finally, functional studies will also be carried out by researchers in collaboration with the FRQ to better understand how changes in the virus affect its replication, its affinity for the cell receptor, its transmission, its pathogenesis, its response to vaccines and the performance of tests. diagnostics.