The charity Sepsis Research FEAT is calling for increased funding for genetic research into critical illnesses like sepsis, following ground-breaking findings by a study it funds.

Sepsis Research FEAT is the only UK charity fundraising to support research into sepsis while also working to raise awareness of this condition which kills around 5 people every hour in the UK. The primary research the charity supports is GenOMICC – a global collaboration to study genetics in critical illness – led by University of Edinburgh in partnership with Genomics England. Having supported GenOMICC since 2018, Sepsis Research FEAT more than doubled its investment this year.

GenOMICC researches how our genes can influence the body’s response to conditions such as sepsis and has offered crucial data to scientists searching for treatments for critical illnesses. GenOMICC uses DNA samples from sepsis and Covid-19 patients in intensive care units throughout the UK and has gathered over 18,270 DNA samples to date. Because there are similarities between sepsis and Covid-19, the work being carried out was pivoted during the pandemic to help in the fight against Covid-19. These findings for Covid-19 can also be used to develop further understanding of sepsis.

Earlier this month, GenOMICC scientists, led by Professor Kenneth Baillie, published ground-breaking findings which identified 16 new genetic variants associated with severe Covid-19, including some related to blood clotting, immune response and intensity of inflammation.

Colin Graham, Sepsis Research FEAT’s Chief Operating Officer, said:

“The research by GenOMICC shows the considerable promise of genetics to help understand critical illnesses, including sepsis. That is why we are calling on the Government to increase support for vital genetic research. Discoveries made by studies like GenOMICC can highlight the drugs which should be at the top of the list for clinical testing, potentially saving thousands of lives.

“Sepsis Research FEAT is very proud to have been one of the original funders of GenOMICC and to continue to invest in this study. The research carried out by the GenOMICC team is playing a crucial part in the fight against sepsis. We believe sepsis is a medical emergency – it kills 50,000 people in the UK every year. The biological processes that cause it are not understood and that is why more research is urgently needed.

“Our charity’s aim always has been and always will be to invest in research to help save and improve the lives of people affected by this devastating condition. Research is not cheap and we rely on legacies and donations to fund this vital work. That is why increased support from the government would make a huge difference to furthering genetic research into critical illness.”

Professor Kenneth Baillie, the GenOMICC study’s chief investigator and a Consultant in Critical Care Medicine at University of Edinburgh, said:

“Our latest findings point to specific molecular targets in critical Covid-19. These results explain why some people develop life-threatening Covid-19, while others get no symptoms at all. But more importantly, this gives us a deep understanding of the process of disease and is a big step forward in finding more effective treatments.

“It is now true to say that we understand the mechanisms of Covid better than the other syndromes we treat in intensive care in normal times – sepsis, flu, and other forms of critical illness. Covid-19 is showing us the way to tackle those problems in the future.

“It’s important to note that the whole GenOMICC study owes its success to the support we’ve received from Sepsis Research FEAT in two ways. Firstly by providing flexible funds to extend the study, and secondly by keeping our whole team sharply focused on the primary aim: using genetics to find better treatments for critical illness.”