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Israeli Consortium Launches Patient Sequencing Study to Uncover COVID-19 Genetic Risk Factors

NEW YORK –A public-private consortium in Israel will collect samples and sequence genomes from thousands of COVID-19 patients in an effort to identify protective and risk-bearing genetic factors with the hopes of discovering new diagnostic and treatment methods.

Consortium partners include the Israel Ministry of Health, the Israel Innovation Authority, Sourasky (Ichilov) Medical Center, Rambam Health Care Campus, and startup company Geneyx, which offers next-generation sequencing data analysis, interpretation, reporting, and storage products and services.

According to a Geneyx spokesperson, the Israeli Innovation Authority has earmarked approximately NIS $3 million (about $838,500) for the project, while Israel-headquartered, international technology firm BATM is providing additional unspecified funding. The project's total budget is expected to exceed $1.5 million, the spokesperson said.

"In a secure manner and with informed consent, we will gather the clinical information of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in various states of health," Hagit Baris Feldman, director of the Genetic Institute and Genomic Center at Ichilov, said in a statement. "This is a rare opportunity to thoroughly and consistently document clinical findings of thousands of patients and sequence their whole genome."

Dvir Dahary, chief scientist at Geneyx, added in a statement that the consortium will begin with "very rare cases … for example, healthy young people without any background diseases who have become critically ill and elderly people with only minor symptoms, and we will check what genetic specificities are related to these reactions."

The consortium will use Illumina's NovaSeq 6000 and Dragen Whole Genome Pipeline to sequence the COVID-19 patients, the spokesperson said. Meanwhile, Geneyx's platform will enable documentation and standardization of sample collection and will provide genomic data analysis and storage.

The Geneyx spokesperson also noted that Amazon Web Services has donated approximately $250,000 worth of cloud computing credits to the effort.

The consortium expects the study to yield initial results by June, the spokesperson said.