Consortium to Launch Big Data Biobank for Coronavirus Research
May 04, 2020 – Partners HealthCare, Biogen Inc., and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard are partnering to launch a big data biobank for coronavirus research.
The biobank will feature a large collection of de-identified biological and medical data to increase knowledge of the virus and discover potential vaccines and treatments. Biogen will help employees who want to volunteer connect with the project.
The volunteers are among the first people in Massachusetts to be diagnosed and recover from COVID-19, as well as close contacts of those individuals who were not tested or who may have not had symptoms.
Researchers believe this clustered group of people with a common exposure will offer new insight into why some people show signs of disease and others are asymptomatic. Additionally, the data could help scientists understand why, among those who show symptoms, some become more severely ill than others.
The research team will also analyze blood samples from recovered patients to evaluate the levels of neutralizing antibodies against COVID-19 and other aspects of their immune profile, which could shed light on short- and long-term therapeutic options.
“Our investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have been working around-the-clock on several promising clinical trials that we hope will lead to effective treatments for COVID-19. But patient participation in research is critical and the establishment of this biobank is a significant advancement for the research community and the broader patient population,” said Ravi Thadhani, MD, MPH, Chief Academic Officer at Partners HealthCare.
“Through this collaboration with Biogen and their employees who have volunteered to share their information, we will be able to learn significantly more about the characteristics and development of this disease and make important discoveries that will lead to treatments for the patients we care for and those around the world.”
A team at the Broad Institute will generate and de-identify data from the blood samples. The biobank will then provide a unique, anonymous medical and biological dataset that could help scientists understand the biology of the virus, illuminating pathways for potential vaccines, treatments, and other breakthroughs.
“Patients who have volunteered to donate data to accelerate the shared understanding of the disease play a crucial role in the global effort to overcome COVID-19,” said said Eric S. Lander, President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
“Through a shared biobank, researchers will be able to identify new patterns and drastically expand our knowledge of a disease. We are enormously grateful to the Biogen employees, their family members, and other close contacts who have volunteered to take part in this essential effort.”
The biobank will also store frozen samples, which could inform future research with appropriate patient consent. Biogen will have the same level of access to the biobank as researchers around the world, which means it won’t have access to identifiable information nor will it know which employees and close contacts volunteered to participate.
The collaboration among Partners, Biogen, and the Broad Institute began when several Biogen employees, still recovering from COVID-19, started to think of ways they could contribute their own medical information to aid research efforts at Biogen and beyond.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a very direct, very personal impact on our Biogen community. We are uniquely positioned to contribute to advancing COVID-19 science in an organized and deliberate way so we can all gain a better understanding of this virus,” said Maha Radhakrishnan, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Biogen.
“Many Biogen colleagues have been eager to find ways to help others during this pandemic, and it is our hope that this biobank will provide hope and essential information during this difficult time. It is an opportunity to activate and bring together our commitment to science with the needs of humanity, and we are proud to participate.”
Biogen employees who have contracted and recovered from COVID-19, as well as people identified as close contacts of these individuals, are eligible to participate in the project. Partners HealthCare, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are coordinating the outreach and sample collection effort.
“The ability to collaborate directly with a cohort of local patients who were among the first in Massachusetts to contract COVID-19, and partner with leading health care and biomedical and research institutions across Kendall Square and the Boston area, allows us to launch many critical research approaches at once,” said Deborah Hung, a core faculty member of the Broad Institute and co-director of the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program.
Through this joint effort, researchers will be able to analyze big data resources to better understand the virus and its impact on patients.
“Thanks to these patients and their close contacts, we’ll gain insights into the biology of how the disease moved through a relatively small group of the larger population, early in the local life-cycle in Massachusetts. Just as important, we’ll be able to evaluate the levels of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, and this may offer some options for therapies in the near term,” said Hung.
“We’re grateful to these individuals for their willingness to participate, and hope that by sharing their data, researchers everywhere will be able to make new discoveries that point the way toward effective treatments.”