CDC launches nationwide public-private effort to coordinate coronavirus sequencing

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Known as SPHERES, the network will work to coordinate national sequencing efforts going forward, and aim to support contact tracing and other public health strategies. (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a wide-ranging consortium—including dozens of state and federal labs, academic research centers, non-profit organizations and industry companies—to rapidly expand the use of whole genome sequencing against the novel coronavirus.

The goal of the project is to publish real-time data in the public domain tracking the virus’ transmission and the evolution of COVID-19. This could also provide new targets for therapeutics and diagnostic tests.

Known as SPHERES—for SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology and Surveillance—the network will work to coordinate national sequencing efforts, and aim to support contact tracing and other public health strategies. It will also lay down data standards and help establish best practices.

It will be led by the CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection program, which has previously invested in public health labs at different levels of government to expand pathogen genomics research and surveillance.

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Participants from the private sector include sequencing test developers and genomics tech companies, such as Abbott Diagnostics, bioMérieux, Color Genomics, Ginkgo Bioworks, IDbyDNA, Illumina, In-Q-Tel, LabCorp, One Codex, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Pacific Biosciences, Qiagen, Quest Diagnostics and Verily. 

The effort also includes the FDA and NIH, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg BioHub and other non-profit organizations and associations, plus several leading universities across the country.

The resulting sequencing data will be available in public repositories maintained by the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, as well as the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data and others.

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