CADDE project discovers Covid-19 P.1/Gamma variant

Preparing for a pandemic saves lives.

For pandemic preparedness the necessary equipment, expertise, collaboration networks, and infrastructure needs to be established during non-pandemic years. This preparedness ensures a rapid response in a global emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus first arrived in Brazil in February 2020. The scientific community responded almost immediately, mobilizing expertise in disease surveillance and genomic sequencing to track the virus as it spread unchecked through the country.

As the virus evolved new variants, the Newton Brazil-UK Centre for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (CADDE), were the first to identify the Covid-19 P.1/Gamma variant of concern in Manaus in early January 2021. The Gamma variant, as the Delta variant, is one of four ‘variants of concern’ classified by the World Health Organisation, kept under the closest watch by health officials, as their characteristics render them potentially more infectious and harmful. The Newton-funded CADDE research programme developed an extensive network of collaborators, nationally embedding skills and expertise in cutting edge technologies, which are essential during a global health emergency.

CADDE scientists sequenced SARS-CoV-2 in Brazil within 48 hours of the first confirmed case in late February 2020. The identified SARS-CoV-2 data was shared with other researchers through the GISAID Initiative, a global data sharing platform that promotes the rapid sharing of data from all influenza viruses and the coronavirus causing COVID-19. Computational analysis of the identified SARS-CoV-2 virus genome helped the team track the global spread of the virus and show two early independent virus introductions to Brazil, from travel through Europe.

Researchers at CADDE have been central to the pandemic response thanks to their previous experiences with the Zika public health emergency in 2015 and yellow fever outbreak in 2017. The team have enabled a deeper understanding of how viruses mutate and how transmission rates change, by highlighting the potential for more serious infections. They have also provided data for better strategies for tracking and treating emerging variants, highlighting the importance of genomic surveillance and international data sharing to detect and characterise emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants quickly. The sequence data has impact by informing policy decisions on control measures such as the introduction of travel restrictions, quarantining, lockdowns, or other transmission reduction strategies. It can also inform the approach for developing vaccine updates for variants.

“Above all what Newton funding allowed us to do was promote faster dialogue and empower local laboratories with innovative technologies which contributed to improved global pandemic preparedness.”

Professor Nuno Faria

UK-Brazil Joint Centre for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (CADDE)

Project Leads: Professor Nuno Faria, Reader at Imperial College London and Associate Professor at University of Oxford, UK and Professor Ester Sabino, Associate Professor at Instituto de Medicina Tropical, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Delivery Partners: Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, and FAPESP (the Sao Paulo Science Foundation)