Explained: What is INSACOG, India’s network of labs to sequence the genome of the Covid-19 coronavirus?

Written by corres2

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Thursday (May 12) that the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) would be extended to India’s neighbouring countries.

“India has developed low-cost mitigation technologies for testing, treating, and data management. We have offered these capabilities to other countries. India’s genomic consortium has contributed significantly to the global database on the virus. I am happy to share that we will extend this network to countries in our neighbourhood,” Modi said at the opening session of the second global Covid virtual summit.

The network

INSACOG was established in December 2020 as a joint initiative of the Union Health Ministry of Health and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) (under the Ministry of Science and Technology) with the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to expand the whole-genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease, across India with the aim of understanding how the virus spreads and evolves.

INSACOG started out with the participation of 10 national research laboratories of the central government, and gradually expanded to a network of 38 labs, including private labs, operating on a hub-and-spoke model.

The 10 INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories handhold the new laboratories, and the pan-India consortium works to monitor genomic variations in SARS-CoV-2 by a sentinel sequencing effort which is facilitated by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), involving the Central Surveillance Unit (CSU) under the central government’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP).

How it helps

The data from the genome sequencing laboratories is analysed as per the field data trends to study the linkages, if any, between the genomic variants and epidemiological trends. This, the INSACOG website says, helps to understand super spreader events and outbreaks, and strengthen public health interventions across the country to help break chains of transmission.

Linking this data with IDSP data and the patient’s symptoms helps to better understand viral infection dynamics, and trends of morbidity and mortality. The data can be linked with host genomics, immunology, clinical outcomes, and risk factors for a more comprehensive outlook. Sequencing assumes added significance as the incidence of reinfections and vaccine breakthroughs increases.

INSACOG is also working to establish a systematic correlation between genome sequencing and clinical outcomes. The consortium is working towards establishing a hospital network across the country with the aim to study clinical correlations in mild vs severe cases of Covid-19, and to carry out a longitudinal study to understand long-term post-Covid complications and change in immunity. INSACOG is also looking to expand to sewage surveillance as an early detection tool, and to assess the spread of variants in hotspot localities.

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