BY-COVID – a collaborative effort to tackle data challenges that can hinder effective pandemic response
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a global public health emergency over the last two years and continues to affect lives. The global scientific community has, in an unprecedented way, collaborated in SARS-CoV-2 research efforts and contributed to the rapid development of vaccines and therapeutics. The scientific community needs to reflect upon their initial response to the crisis, identify factors that during the early stages of the pandemic hindered the SARS CoV-2 research efforts, and plan for future pandemics. In addition, during the present-day COVID-19 pandemic, countries world-wide have generated and shared vast amounts of data, as well as generated data from locally tracked SARS-CoV-2 variants. There is a need to ensure that data will not be a limiting factor in future pandemic preparedness.
The BeYond-COVID (BY-COVID) is a recently launched €12 million project funded by Horizon Europe. BY-COVID is a part of the European Commission’s HERA Incubator plan “Anticipating together the threat of COVID-19 variants” and will run for the next three years. It is an interdisciplinary project that unites life science, medical, social science, policy, and public health experts from across Europe and is led by ELIXIR. ELIXIR, an intergovernmental organization bringing together life science resources i.e., databases, software tools, training materials, storage and supercomputers from across Europe. The project has 53 partners in total from 19 European countries. The SciLifeLab Data Centre which operates the Swedish COVID-19 Data Portal will be one of the partners in this European effort.
The aim of the BY-COVID project is to tackle data challenges that can hinder effective response to future pandemics. A specific focus is on ensuring that both SARS-CoV-2 and other infectious diseases data can be accessed and used by everyone. Monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic can contribute to developing resources, guidelines, and data standards which in case of a novel pandemic can enable rapid application. The project will also coordinate dispersed datasets from different institutes/countries and promote collaboration between scientific communities. The BY-COVID project will build upon the foundation and lessons learned from the successful European COVID-19 Data Platform, a resource originally launched in April 2020 by EMBL-EBI.
SciLifeLab Data Centre will participate in work package 4 (WP4) and contribute to building an infectious diseases toolkit. The toolkit will bring together national developments to gather, query, process and visualise data and promote and share quality-assured reproducible and portable processing methods. The team will also take part in other work packages as observers. In addition, the participation in BY-COVID will be integrated with SciLifeLab’s mission for Pandemic Laboratory Preparedness.
“Our experience from the work with the Swedish COVID-19 Data Portal is that rapid accessibility to data and results have been key components in the pandemic response. The pandemic has highlighted areas where more work is needed to make data FAIR. The new BY-COVID project is a collaborative effort to adress this and improve our preparedness for future pandemics, and we look forward to be a partner in this effort,” says Johan Rung, Head of SciLifeLab Data Centre.
BY-COVID will not only focus on technical solutions but strives to simplify data access and reuse. The project is built on four “pillars”:
- Mobilise data and thereby ensure that submitting raw sequences to core data hubs (e.g., the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA), Federated European Genome Archive (FEGA), BBMRI biobank directory) is simple.
- Connect data - to build the technical capacity that will make it possible to link sequence data and metadata. This will facilitate for expanding beyond scientific and medical data to broader metadata from for example public health and economics. In addition, to Support integration to the European COVID-19 Data Portal.
- Standardise data - provide recommended data management protocols to encourage FAIR data standards and interoperability among resources.
- Expose and analyse data - support exposure and analysis of FAIR data on infectious diseases through for example the open COVID-19 Galaxy analysis platform).
Read more about BY-COVID on the official website of the project or follow the project on Twitter and LinkedIn. For updates about the Swedish COVID-19 Data Portal participation in BY-COVID, follow the Twitter account of the SciLifeLab Data Centre.