LOS ANGELES-May 17, 2021-May 17 marks the official launch of the Global Health Security Consortium, a partnership between the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine and a team of scientists at the University of Oxford, and publishing its first paper ‘Tech Solutions for Global Genomic Sequencing and Surveillance.’
Drawing on expertise in science, medicine and policy, the aim of the consortium is to provide insight, analysis and support for leaders around the world to help them deal with today’s pandemic as well as prepare for the health security challenges of tomorrow.
The world’s lack of preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic has shown in stark relief that we need to work differently in order to identify solutions that are pragmatic, politically viable and able to scale, while accounting for sudden, novel challenges.
Our first paper, ‘Tech Solutions for Global Genomic Sequencing and Surveillance’ proposes a plan to revolutionize genomic sequencing and surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
As the paper sets out, genomic sequencing and surveillance matters because:
The emergence of variants of concern (VOCs) will prevent us from ending the Covid-19 pandemic in a timely manner. If VOCs achieve “viral escape” – when a virus can evade the immunity (T-cell and humoral) generated by a vaccine – new strains of SARS-CoV-2 could infect and kill at a global scale, even after we achieve mass vaccination. Genomic sequencing and surveillance at scale would allow the global community to identify VOCs and their spread earlier so that we can respond rapidly with appropriate vaccines (including boosters), treatments, and policy and public-health measures. Analytic tools, platforms and dashboards enable the viewing of sovereign data and global data to facilitate early public-health interventions, policy planning and decision-making. Genomic sequencing, surveillance and analytic capabilities play a similarly critical role for other infectious diseases, which should be carefully managed as part of emerging global health security priorities.
It makes the following policy recommendations:
- Identify the most promising technology solutions to strengthen cloud-based genomic sequence data analysis and storage for a range of pathogens and facilitate global surveillance with appropriate tools and dashboards.
- Fund, pilot and support development of promising solutions to ensure they are validated and have appropriate technical and security functionality.
- Establish an international body, ideally convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), to serve as the steward for a global technology solution; set, monitor and enforce standards for participation, data-sharing and reporting; design key incentives for data-sharing; and oversee scientific committees to set consensus on wild-type SARS-CoV-2 versus variant strains and identify phenotypic and epidemiological implications.
As Dr Agus and Tony Blair say in their foreword:
“We will always look to push the boundaries of what is politically and scientifically possible but also commit to presenting clear and actionable roadmaps that leaders can put to use. Our aim is to help turn ideas into reality that changes lives for the better.
“We have seen that viruses do not respect borders. Our approach will always remain global, our agenda single-minded: to help leaders contain this pandemic as quickly as possible for all of humanity, and ensure nothing like it ever happens again. We have no choice.”