Government & Policy
Ontario to tap into genomics database
February 3, 2021
TORONTO – The Ontario government announced that it will use integrated data and deep analytics to drive decision-making and inform planning related to pandemic response, leveraging DNAstack’s COVID Cloud platform. DNAstack is a Toronto-based software company that developed COVID Cloud, a cloud-based genomic database of SARS-CoV-2 genomes and bioinformatics tool.
This is an opportunity for Ontario to establish a provincial databank for safely and securely storing genomic sequencing information, that can strengthen the impact of genomics and can support real-time analysis and decision-making of Public Health Ontario.
In December 2020, it was announced that a national consortium led by DNAstack will expand development of a software platform for genomics and health data and apply it to COVID-19. The $5.1M project, called COVID Cloud, is co-funded by Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster and aims to increase Canada’s capacity to harness exponentially growing volumes of genomics and biomedical data to advance precision health.
The platform will be used by data scientists and domain experts to help understand, predict, and treat COVID-19 with molecular precision. With a global death count of over 1.4 million people and record numbers of cases nationally, solutions that can help Canada respond to ongoing challenges of the pandemic are urgently needed.
“We are proud to continue to support this consortium’s groundbreaking work through our COVID-19 program,” said Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster. “This project shows how Canadian partnerships across multiple organizations and sectors can drive innovation, help us address global health issues, showcase Canadian expertise, and position us well to rebuild and grow our economy.”
The project – a collaboration between BioSymetrics, Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University, DNAstack, FACIT, Genome BC, Mannin Research, McMaster University, Microsoft Canada, Ontario Genomics, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Roche Canada, Sunnybrook Research Institute, and Vector Institute – brings together Canadian leaders in software engineering, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, genomics, infectious disease, pharmaceuticals, commercialization, and policy. It leverages past work of partners to address needs of infectious disease research with guidance from domain experts.
“Tools that allow us to interrogate SARS-CoV-2 at a molecular level are essential to addressing this global health crisis, both now and in the future,” said Dr. Samira Mubareka, a microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook, whose team was one of the first in Canada to isolate the novel coronavirus. “The insights we will learn by analyzing integrated datasets using technology platforms like COVID Cloud can increase our preparedness for future waves and outbreaks.”
Dr. Mubareka will co-chair the project’s translational science efforts along with Dr. Gabriel Musso, chief scientific officer for BioSymetrics. “The infrastructure developed by this initiative will propel collaborative Canadian drug discovery efforts for COVID-19,” said Musso, whose team will lead bioinformatics and computational drug discovery for the project.
A major goal of the project is to make it easy for producers of genomic and health data to share data responsibly over industry standards, and for researchers to harness the collective power of information shared through them. The project deliverables include a suite of software products powered by enterprise-grade implementations of standards developed by Global Alliance for Genomics & Health (GA4GH), protocols that are being designed to facilitate the responsible sharing of genomic and health data, which will help advance precision medicine initiatives around the world.
“The platform is being built on a foundation of open standards that will allow for distributed networks of genomics and biomedical data to be built,” said Dr. Marc Fiume (pictured), CEO at DNAstack, whose team will lead software engineering for the project. “We are excited to see these technologies breaking down barriers to data sharing, access, and analysis and create new opportunities for genomics-based discoveries for our partners.”
This project is responding to global demand for highly specialized, scalable, distributed software infrastructure to support collaborative genomics research – a need that has surged since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation of many industries, especially in healthcare,” said Kevin Peesker, president of Microsoft Canada. “The incredible power of Cloud applied to COVID at scale is expanding development of an information superhighway to securely connect scientists in Canada and around the world to the data and compute power they urgently need to help us overcome one of the greatest global health crises of our time.”
The platform will be used to support a series of projects in partnership with Canadian academic, clinical, and pharmaceutical collaborators, which are being coordinated by Canadian genome centres, Genome British Columbia and Ontario Genomics. These initial projects are being prioritized based on urgency and potential impact on Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID Cloud is an incredible platform that brings together resources and capacity to enable timely and comprehensive genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 for our province and our country,” said Bettina Hamelin, president and CEO of Ontario Genomics, whose team leads the ONCoV Genomics Coalition. “This made-in-Canada solution will immediately accelerate Canada’s response to COVID-19, while being a technological springboard for translating genomic data analysis into actionable medical insights across other disease areas in years to come.”
Ontario is also exploring opportunities with the ONCoV Genomics Coalition to take advantage of capacity and expertise genomic sequencing in Ontario’s research and scientific community. Leveraging analytics will enhance Ontario’s capacity to identify known and emerging variants of COVID-19 and will strengthen the province’s genomic data by providing an increasingly clearer picture of the emergence and patterns of COVID-19 variants.