Scientists will now be able to submit and access up-to-the-minute data on the COVID-19 genome. (iStock)

Live data sharing portal  tracks COVID-19 genome

The publicly-funded Genome Canada has launched a new national portal to enable real-time data sharing of the COVID-19 genome sequences. This will collect and provide critical information to help manage the current and future pandemics. This information is used to detect, diagnose and anticipate the new variants of COVID-19. It provides a single platform for researchers and public health experts to download comprehensive, standardized viral genomic data and will allow them to interact and collaborate. 

Much of Canada is in the grips of a third wave of the pandemic driven in large part by more easily transmissible variants. On February 12, 2021, the Government of Canada pledged $53 million to detect and address COVID-19 variants of concern across the country. The development of the Canadian VirusSeq Data Portal is one benefit of that spending. 

The sharing of data has helped scientists come up with vaccines and information about COVID-19 in record time. (iStock)

Barriers to data sharing overcome

Until now, those studying the virus have had to piece together information about the pandemic through a variety of international databases. No single database had all the information to get a comprehensive Canadian genomic survey and there were several barriers to sharing information specific to Canada. 

The new portal will help public health leaders and other experts get a clear picture of the virus in Canada including detection, transmission, evolution and tracking of variants of concern. 

‘Still a long way to go’

“The world still has a long way to go to defeat COVID-19, and rapid data sharing is one of the most effective weapons at our disposal,” said Guillaume Bourque, Department of Human Genetics at McGill University who helped develop the portal. ”With the launch of the VirusSeq Data Portal, we now have a platform for all Canadian SARS-CoV-2 sequences and associated metadata. This Canadian-made, open science solution will streamline access to critical national datasets for scientists and public health officials and enable them to collaborate. Ultimately, it will amplify our ability to make the kinds of decisions and discoveries that will lead Canada out of this pandemic—and help us to manage the next one.” 

The portal promises to provide critical information for “public health and policy decisions, testing and tracing strategies, virus detection and surveillance methods, vaccine development and effectiveness, drug discovery and effectiveness of treatment and understanding susceptibility, disease severity and clinical outcomes.”

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