New Delhi, Dec 30 (PTI) A high-level inter-ministerial steering Committee will guide Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), formed to ascertain the status of new variant of the coronavirus, Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, said on Wednesday.

The committee will have a Scientific Advisory Group for technical guidance, she said.

The government had launched the INSACOG, comprising 10 labs, in the wake of the new strain of the coronavirus being detected in the UK.

Twenty cases of the new strain have been detected so far in India, prompting the government to ramp up genome surveillance.

The overall aim of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 genomics consortium is to monitor the genomic variations in the virus on a regular basis through a multi-laboratory network. This vital research consortium will also assist in developing potential vaccines in the future, the DBT said.

“Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary DBT, informed that INSACOG will have a high level Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee which will provide guidance and oversight to the consortium specially for policy matters and it will have a Scientific Advisory Group for scientific and technical guidance,” a DBT statement said.

The consortium will ascertain the status of new variant of SARS-CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01) in the country, establish sentinel surveillance for early detection of genomic variants with public health implication, and determine the genomic variants in the unusual events and trends (super-spreader events, high mortality/morbidity trend areas).

Coordinated by the DBT along with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, ICMR and CSIR, the strategy and roadmap of the INSACOG has been prepared.

The new variant, which was found in the UK, especially in the London region, is defined by multiple mutations in the spike region, as well as mutations in other genomic regions.   In the backdrop of the emergence of the newly identified variant of the novel SARS-CoV-2 Virus in the UK, South Africa and some other parts of the world, the government has taken action to accelerate virus surveillance, genome sequencing and characterisation, the DBT said.

These mutations are rapidly increasing the number of variants of the virus. This variant is significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated potential to increase the reproductive number with an estimated increased transmissibility of up to 70 percent, the DBT said.

INSACOG will monitor the genomic variations on a regular basis through the multi-laboratory network. Knowledge generated through this vital research consortium will also assist in developing diagnostics and potential therapeutics and vaccines in the future, the statement added.

DBT-NIBMG, as the coordinating unit of the genome sequencing consortium, will closely work with a nodal unit of NCDC on activities like SOPs, data annotation, data analysis, data release.

The NCDC will maintain a database of all samples of the new variants of public health significance.

The data will be epidemiologically analysed, interpreted and shared with state/district for investigation, contact tracing and planning response strategies.

All the genomic sequencing data will be maintained in a national database at two sites, DBT-NIBMG, Kalyani and CSIR-IGIB, New Delhi.

The virus isolated will be deposited in the notified SARS-CoV-2 virus repository Regional Centre for Biotechnology, Faridabad and NIV, Pune.