DEFRA data share essential to pandemic preparation urges expert
27 Nov 2023
Non-healthcare bodies such as DEFRA need to collaborate more fully with healthcare organisations in order to boost preparations against new pandemics, warned a leading genomics expert.
PacBio VP and General Manager EMEA Neil Ward highlighted that sequencing municipal wastewater samples and tracking pathogens circulating in livestock would establish an early warning system for scientists to counter antimicrobial resistance both within populations and across species.
“Collaboration must also extend to non-healthcare bodies, such as government departments and private organisations in the agricultural space, like the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)," he urged.
“These bodies play a critical role in disease surveillance considering that many pandemics have zoonotic origins. Governments could vastly expand the genomic characterisation and surveillance of these pathogens if there was greater resourcing and inclusion of agricultural bodies in pandemic preparedness strategies.”
A contributor to key global genomics projects, including the whole genome sequencing of the 500,000 UK Biobank samples, The Darwin Project, and the Estonian Genome Project, Ward delivered his warning in an address for the World Health Organisation sponsored World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week.
Governments could vastly expand the genomic characterisation and surveillance of these pathogens if there was greater resourcing and inclusion of agricultural bodies in pandemic preparedness strategies
Neil Ward, VP and General Manager EMEA, PacBio
Recently, the UK Health Security Agency disclosed that nearly 59,000 people in England contracted antibiotic-resistant infections in 2022 – a 4% increase on the previous 12 months. There is also evidence that some common childhood antibiotics may now be less than 50% effective thanks to the ability of diseases such as pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis to evolve.
“Wider sharing of genomic pathogen data will strengthen global biosurveillance, so scientists and officials can respond to potential threats while they are still localised and control outbreaks,” comments Ward.
Previously obtaining accurate genomic pathogen data at scale has been thwarted by limitations in technology and the high cost and low sample throughput achieved by whole genome sequencing.
Now, said Ward, advances in sequencing technology have reduced the cost of sequencing significantly, while increasing sample analysis.
“The latest sequencing technology also has extremely low error levels, with some methods, such as sequencing by binding, being up to 15 times more accurate than legacy methods, overcoming cost and scale barriers, fuelling breakthroughs in our understanding of pathogens,” he explained.
“Long term, international collaboration between health and agricultural organisations will underpin a shift towards a preventative approach to pandemics, where we recognise and respond to emerging public health red flags before they become crises.”
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