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The Rockefeller Foundation Announces Key Grants & Collaborations to Strengthen Global Genomic Sequencing & Data Sharing

NEW YORK | June 9, 2021 – The Rockefeller Foundation announces over $20 million in funding and several non-financial collaborations to help strengthen global capabilities to detect and respond to pandemic threats by strengthening organizations’ abilities to sequence and share genomic information and other data rapidly. Collaborating with over 20 organizations from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, this enhanced network will begin to shape The Rockefeller Foundation’s pandemic prevention institute.

“Fast, accurate genomic sequencing information is the key to ending the Covid-19 pandemic and the suffering it has caused. Yet today only 14 countries, all of which have developed economies, are sequencing five percent or more of their cases and sharing them through global databases,” said Rajiv J. Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. “For that reason, The Rockefeller Foundation is strengthening global sequencing capacity – to end this pandemic for all as soon as possible.”

These initial grants and agreements will expand country and regional capacity for sequencing the genomes of pathogens in sub-Saharan Africa, India and the United States, as well as strengthen a global network of genomic sequencing information that is accessible across the world. They represent the first step in the development of The Rockefeller Foundation’s pandemic prevention institute. The institute will collaborate other pandemic prevention efforts, including the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence and the UK’s Global Pandemic Radar and other pandemic prevention efforts, to identify disease outbreaks early and stop them in the first 100 days.

As Covid-19 variants continue to drive surges of outbreaks, reliable genomic surveillance will help accelerate timely analysis and inform response measures to keep countries one step ahead of the virus and counter emerging threats in the future.

“As the virus evolves, we have to ensure that vaccines, our best tools for stopping it and its deadly toll on individuals, families and communities, remain effective,” said Dr. Rick Bright, Senior Vice President of Pandemic Preparedness at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Rapidly sharing genomic sequencing information from all corners of the globe enables us to see and understand how the virus is changing and adapt our tools accordingly. Without this information we risk the pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on our lives.”

Transforming global capacity to better detect and respond to pandemics

Scaling up global genomic sequencing pipelines

The Rockefeller Foundation is working to expand global genomic sequencing capacity in collaboration with a range of organizations across several key geographies, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the US, and Asia, including:

  • GISAID Initiative to accelerate the advancement of its pathogen data sharing platform and to further incentivize the global community of data generators to rapidly share outbreak data to enable real-time public health responses and the development of lifesaving countermeasures such as vaccines and diagnostic tests to detect novel pathogens;
  • CSIR-Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology on behalf of a consortium of pathogen genomics sequencing centers to develop targeted sampling strategies, optimize bioinformatics tools, and enable real-time understanding of viral evolution while building a long-term pathogen genomics and surveillance platform across India;
  • Stellenbosch University to refine sampling, expand bioinformatics pipelines, catalyze surveillance-informed public health decision-making, and expand local knowledge through fellowships and workforce development programs throughout Africa;
  • U.S. Regional Accelerators for Genomic Surveillance to provide strategic coordination and operational support towards improved and diversified regional surveillance efforts across a network of institutions, including the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Louisiana State University Health Shreveport; University of Florida, in collaboration with the University of Central Florida; and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Additionally, The Rockefeller Foundation and the World Health Organization are co-leading a working group on genomic surveillance within the ACT-A Diagnostics pillar. This group will complement the groups set around the WHO Global Risk Monitoring Framework for variants and consultations and will focus on harmonizing, coordinating, and accelerating priority activities across country, regional and global partners by building on existing initiatives and avoiding duplication.

Supporting data and technology globally

Covid-19 demonstrated that the world was ill-prepared to combat a novel pathogen. Before the next pandemic strikes, modernizing the global infrastructure for pandemic preparedness and prevention is critical. The Foundation is working in close partnership with other organizations that share this vision to leverage comparative strengths to transform global capacity and is formally collaborating with:

  • Concentric by Ginkgo to develop end-to-end biosecurity technologies in order to monitor, detect, and mitigate biological threats by leveraging Ginkgo Bioworks’ synthetic biology foundry and unique biological codebase;
  • data.org to develop software and privacy-preserving methods that prevent pandemics though distributed analyses, as part of its Distributed Pandemic Tools program, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust;
  • Development Data Partnership to expand access to novel data from over 25 technology companies, speeding pandemic response and prevention;
  • FIND to increase access to diagnostics and sequencing tools to underserved nations, unlock the potential of digital apps and connectivity for real-time collection of data from low-resource settings, and foster sentinel laboratory networks for early disease detections. This work will build on successes from the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Diagnostics pillar, in the move to create a permanent diagnostics alliance.
  • Global.health, a collaboration between leading institutions including Oxford, Harvard, Northeastern, Boston Children’s Hospital, Georgetown, University of Washington, and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security with support from Google.org, to build a global hub to enable sharing of trusted and open public health data, starting with Covid-19 line list data;
  • Global Fund to strengthen national community health information systems and bring cutting  edge analytics on disease reduction, surveillance and outbreak detection that support the accelerated elimination of the existing epidemics of HIV, TB, and Malaria, and provide the key platforms for future pandemic response;
  • Illumina to expand existing and introduce new genomic sequencing technologies and informatic solutions that build on local capacity;
  • Oxford Nanopore to promote and enable rapid, distributed sequencing for integration into both local and national public health systems, contributing towards timely data sharing through global repositories;
  • Scripps Research to expand efforts to create a sensor-based early warning system for Covid-19 and other viral outbreaks through use of wearable technologies such as activity trackers. Efforts will focus on expanding, refining and diversifying Scripps Research’s ongoing DETECT study, which has already enrolled more than 38,000 participants across the United States;
  • Thermo Fisher to expand access to sequencing and genetic analysis technologies globally and advocate for genetic data as a critical tool for managing global outbreaks on a local level;
  • QIAGEN to collaborate on offering its sample technologies used to isolate and purify nucleic acids, QIAcuity digital PCR instruments for wastewater analysis, and NGS applications combined with QIAGEN Digital Insights bioinformatics for genomic surveillance;
  • Verily to bring leading-edge data science technology and innovative surveillance modalities like waste-water epidemiology to advance early pathogen detection and inform outbreak response.

Investing in convening platforms to drive coordination and alignment

 To ensure alignment across multiple efforts, The Rockefeller Foundation is working with:

  • FasterCures, a center of Milken Institute, to convene leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to galvanize the creation of an early warning system for pandemics that coordinates action on data and insights for response, and proactive financing for pandemic preparedness;
  • Viridae, Inc. to drive the development, validation, and adoption of standards for genomic surveillance to improve consistency and quality of public health insights.

Committing to a pandemic-free future

As The Rockefeller Foundation is seeding its initial grants, the G7 is meeting to solidify their plans to prevent future pandemics. The Rockefeller Foundation looks forward to collaborating closely with other pandemic prevention efforts, including the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence and the UK’s Global Pandemic Radar, after the G7 Summit to ensure resources are used most efficiently and effectively, and that all partners are playing to their strengths and not duplicating efforts.

This ambitious work requires a multi-stakeholder approach, and thus it is critical to work across public and private sectors. The World Economic Forum will play a key role in this collaboration, along with others with which it will work, by enabling engagement with private sector entities.

The grants and collaborations announced today are a part of the Foundation’s continuing commitment to end the Covid-19 pandemic, while working to prevent the next one and catalyzing an equitable, sustainable global recovery. They form the building blocks of a pandemic prevention institute that will work alongside other initiatives to identify, analyze and inform responses to emerging outbreaks before they become global catastrophes. This global institute will help bring new, innovative ideas to the forefront of global discussions, enable leaders to better detect and manage outbreaks, and ultimately support a world free of pandemics once and for all.

From its earliest days more than a century ago, The Rockefeller Foundation has led the way to improving health outcomes in the United States and globally. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Foundation again stepped up to support expanded access to smart testing and vaccines, worked with leaders to cement ideas for scaling genomic sequencing capacity in the United States in “Getting Ahead of the Pandemic: Accelerating National Genomic Surveillance Capacity” and accompanying implementation framework, published actionable recommendations to catalyze the role of testing and tracing within India’s pandemic response system in “The Road Ahead for Smart Testing and Tracing in India.”


The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation to enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our focus is on scaling renewable energy for all, stimulating economic mobility, and ensuring equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

Media contact

Ashley Chang
The Rockefeller Foundation
+1 917 373 9530
achang@rockfound.org

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