Oxford Nanopore responds to government calls to scale up British diagnostics industry

Nanopore, UK. September 2017

Harwell-based DNA sequencing company Oxford Nanopore is working with public health laboratories around the world, and researchers in related areas, to support the current COVID-19 pandemic.  This includes rapid sequencing of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

The company’s goal is to enable the analysis of any living thing, by anyone, anywhere, using  real-time nanopore-based DNA/RNA sequencing technology.

Oxford Nanopore’s sequencing technology is now being used worldwide, including in multiple labs in the UK, to rapidly sequence the coronavirus and other pathogens that may also be present in a sample. This is supporting epidemiology and scientific understanding of coronavirus. The company’s research and development team is also exploring advanced test options using its DNA/RNA sequencing technology

Rapid data sharing has been key to the public health response, and researchers all over the world have been fast to share the genomes they have sequenced on public databases such as GISAID, GenBank or elsewhere.  As numbers of cases have increased, laboratories have been building capacity to sequence larger numbers of the genomes, typically progressing from using Oxford Nanopore’s MinION device to the GridION device for sequencing.

Sequencing the virus can support ‘genomic epidemiology’- characterising the virus and helping public health authorities to understand the identity of the virus, whether it is changing and how it is being transmitted – all in conjunction with other epidemiological data.

The scientific community has previously developed methods for the rapid, near-sample nanopore sequencing of pathogens in multiple outbreak situations including Zika, Ebola, Yellow Fever and Swine Flu and a range of other pathogens. This experience has supported the rapid deployment of nanopore sequencing for the current outbreak.

The government’s Health Minister, Lord Bethell, said: “I am proud that we have already had an impressive response from companies of different scales and from different sectors coming forward with a commitment to work together, share expertise and resources to establish a large British diagnostics industry which can help us achieve 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.”

Oxford Nanopore staff are working with the community to support the development and sharing of best practice and protocols for the sequencing of this virus. The company is offering technical support to public health authorities and researchers, and working to understand the needs of these users so that it can continue to provide the most useful support to the community.