Support for Pathogen Readiness | Harvard Medical School – Harvard Medical School

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This article is part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing coverage of COVID-19.
The Harvard Medical School-led Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness will play a central role in genomic surveillance and education on emerging and novel pathogens under a new $25 million CDC grant awarded to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to establish the New England Pathogen Genomics Center of Excellence (PGCoE).
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The overarching mission of the effort is to enhance pathogen-sequencing capacity and integrate the resulting genomic data into public health practice throughout New England. The New England PGCoE will also serve as the nation’s lead Center of Excellence for Education for the rest of the country, with HMS, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and MassCPR spearheading the educational offerings. Other regional institutions that will work together under the grant include the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories, all part of MassCPR, along with Fathom Information Design, Theiagen Genomics, and Yale University. 
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In year one of the five-year research grant, the institutions will receive $3.6 million to perform genomic surveillance, including the development of novel genomics-based platforms and research to improve testing capability, led by HMS faculty member Michael Springer. Another $1 million will go to the Broad Institute and the HMS Office for External Education to support educational efforts aimed at enhancing preparedness and increasing knowledge and skills among public health practitioners and researchers throughout the country.
“MassCPR, through its participating institutions, brings together an astounding range and depth of expertise in fields including public health, infectious diseases, genomics, virology, immunology, structural biology, computational science, and clinical medicine. This renders MassCPR uniquely positioned to address the myriad facets of emerging pathogens,” said David Golan, co-chair of the MassCPR executive committee, dean for research operations and global programs, and professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at HMS.
The MassCPR participating institutions, Golan added, will draw on their considerable experience dealing not only with SARS-CoV-2, but with recent outbreaks of both known and novel pathogens, including mumps, hepatitis A, Zika, and monkeypox.
Another key aspect of the effort will be education and practical training of the public health and clinical workforce regionally, nationally, and internationally.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed critical gaps in our nation’s public health readiness to address emerging, rapidly spreading, and evolving infectious diseases,” said Jake Lemieux, co-lead of the MassCPR viral variants working group, assistant professor of medicine at HMS and an infectious disease specialist at Mass General. “One central deficiency is the inability to swiftly deploy and use microbial sequencing, which requires specialized training and expertise, but more broadly, there’s a need to enhance overall understanding of pathogen properties such as transmissibility, evolution, and virulence.”
To help address these knowledge gaps, MassCPR, through its research-in-practice meetings, will play a central role in sparking a cross-pollination of efforts between public health practitioners and scientists both in the United States and around the world, Lemieux added.
One element of these intiatives will be bioinformatics training through the use of the platform developed by the Broad Institute and offered through Theiagen Genomics.
Education and dissemination will be led by the HMS Office for External Education, which will create an online platform to deliver practical asynchronous and synchronous training with tailored certificate programs for public health professionals, scientists, and researchers. The Broad Institute will take the lead on curriculum development, while HMS will use its master’s program and external education infrastructure for graduate-level training of future leaders in biomedicine and public health relevant to pathogen genomics, public health decision-making, and pandemic preparedness.
The funding is part of a $90 million CDC grant to establish PGCoEs across the United States, allocated to five state health departments, which, in addition to Massachusetts, include the health departments of Georgia, Minnesota, Virginia, and Washington state. The five-year awards are intended to:
Established in March 2020 in response to the looming threat of COVID-19, MassCPR brings together hundreds of scientists representing 17 institutions to tackle both the immediate and long-term challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to enhance preparedness for novel and emerging pathogens and future pandemics.
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