Genomics beyond COVID-19 in Germany
In late April 2022, leading experts in Next Generation Sequencing came together in a hybrid workshop organised by the German Covid-19 OMICS Initiative (DeCOI). Over two days, scientists demonstrated a simple truth: without sequencing, this pandemic would have been very different.
Without sequencing we would not have decoded the SARS-CoV-2 genome, we would not have developed a vaccine in record breaking time or would have been able to monitor emerging variants and thereby inform policy. Without sequencing of human host genomes, we would not have been able to predict individual risk factors.
During the workshop, the pandemic was used as a study case to discuss how sequencing can be used to face additional global crises, such as biodiversity and crop breeding to ensure food security.
Though there is still room to grow in regard to its analytic potential, NGS and the genomic data it produces is technology for the future - in crisis but also beyond. But what do we need for successful, healthcare orientated sequencing in the future?
Secure national infrastructures, such as planned by GHGA, where data can be shared for research purposes within the framework of data protection laws. Federated data protection regulatory bodies are hereby a challenge that needs addressing, while keeping the patients’ best interests in mind.
Secure funding, without which effective science cannot be achieved. Research in crisis cannot wait for grants and application cycles. NGS technology is constantly evolving and the investment in state of the art equipment secures the best data beyond the pandemic. Funds are also needed to develop and test new methodology and analysis workflows to ensure that data is used to its best potential.
Sustainability, making sure data collection and knowledge is maintained. One example are variant monitoring programmes. Over the last two years different projects have developed routines to track SARS-CoV-2 variants, e.g. in wastewater. Exploring assays to extend this to other pathogens, can not only help with the outbreaks of COVID but also help in other aspects of healthcare planning. To achieve sustainability, resources such as new equipment but also knowledge and people need to be retained within the field.
Collaboration, open science and the FAIR sharing of not just data, but protocols and workflows brings science forward.
And most importantly, the establishment of a loop between research and health care, in which research informs healthcare decisions from diagnosis and therapy to policy and clinical data feeds back into the research progress.
A white paper detailing this and more is currently under preparation. For further details and questions, please contact the organisers at https://decoi.eu/contact/