GA4GH joins International Alliance to enable secure and collaborative COVID-19 data research at scale 

29 June 2020

The Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) is one of 19 founding members of the International COVID-19 Data Research Alliance and data analysis Workbench, an independent consortium of leading life science, philanthropic, and research organisations launched on June 26, 2020 to support the rapid development of insights and treatments to combat the global effects of COVID-19.

Many organisations across the world are conducting studies into the disease and generating data that, when aggregated and reanalysed, can lead to powerful insights that help accelerate discovery of interventions. However, the data are often siloed meaning it is difficult for researchers to share and collaborate quickly to leverage the expertise and capabilities of 21st century research and analysis. The International COVID-19 Data Research Alliance and Workbench will provide an environment for focused collaborative research, matching high value data from many sources with cutting edge analysis to accelerate collaboration, discovery, and development of insights and treatments to combat COVID-19, all with privacy and accessibility in mind.

“At GA4GH we believe that responsible sharing of high quality research and health data is critical to the field of life sciences; this need is ever more apparent now, as the world faces one of the worst disease outbreaks in history,” said GA4GH CEO, Peter Goodhand. “We are proud to support the International Alliance as it convenes the community to accelerate research and improve health outcomes.”

Convened by Health Data Research UK and funded by the Therapeutics Accelerator, the International Alliance will draw on expertise and work in partnership with the established UK Health Data Research Alliance. Members will aim to align to a common set of principles and standards, based in part on the GA4GH Framework for Responsible Sharing of Genomic and Health-related Data, for the ethical and responsible use of data for public benefit. Other founding members of the International Alliance include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Minderoo Foundation, Wellcome, African Academy of Sciences, HDR Network Canada, Genomics England, and the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory.

Initially, the International Alliance will offer a co-ordinated global response to enable more insights to be derived from data related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the longer-term, it will enable scientific discovery to respond to future disease outbreaks. The International Alliance is seeking membership from organisations such as life science companies, academic institutions and clinical research organisations that control vital research, health and biomedical datasets. Whilst the International Alliance will not hold or control data itself, the aim is for its members’ datasets to be listed on the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway, enabling anyone around the world conducting vital research on disease outbreaks to discover and request access to these important datasets.

The Workbench will provide a set of tools that allows scientists to discover, access and analyse global multi-dimensional datasets and develop an efficient approach to working across boundaries, essential to achieving a rapid response to COVID-19 and future pandemics whilst respecting confidentiality and privacy. The Workbench will connect to regional or national data infrastructures used by members of the International Alliance, such as data from BREATHE, the Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health in partnership with SAIL Databank. It will consolidate data and metadata from numerous federated repositories to allow analysts to work collectively on a target problem. Initial projects will focus on clinical trials of existing drugs repurposed for the treatment of COVID-19, and international studies to understand susceptibility and disease progression.