|Purpose||Global health, Research, Education|
|Method||Donations and Grants|
|Peter Bogner, President|
Jacqueline M. Katz and
John McCauley, Co-Chairs Scientific Advisory Council
The GISAID Initiative is widely credited for successfully enabling the rapid sharing of influenza virus data through a unique sharing mechanism, that was recognized for its importance to global health by all G20 health ministers in 2017. The Initiative involves public–private partnerships between the nonprofit organization Freunde von GISAID e.V. and governments of the Federal Republic of Germany, the official host of the GISAID EpiFlu™ database, providing public access to the most complete collection of genetic sequence data of influenza viruses and related clinical and epidemiological data, Singapore and the United States of America. Initially spurred by the global threat posed by human infections with highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, GISAID introduced its novel sharing mechanism in 2008 that permits free and open access to influenza data, to anyone who positively identifies himself or herself, and agrees to respect the inherent rights of contributors. GISAID’s database access agreement ensures that contributors of virus sequence data do not forfeit intellectual property rights to the data.
The idea for GISAID was first discussed in 2006 with the call for a new global initiative on sharing avian flu data by a group of leading medical researchers from around the world to improve the sharing of influenza data and was announced in a letter published in the journal Nature signed by over 70 leading scientists including seven Nobel laureates.
The Initiative has earned widespread international support around the goal of better understanding the spread and evolution of the influenza virus, its transmissibility and pathogenicity. With this goal in mind, the Initiative determined that scientists from different fields of expertise needed full access to comprehensive genetic sequencing, clinical and epidemiological data, as well as analysis from both human and animal isolates in order to better understand the virus and its potential mutation to a pandemic pathogen. The Initiative aims to provide developing countries with better access to scientific research and the development of potential pandemic flu vaccines to lessen its dependence on foreign aid. It is already hailed as a model for future initiatives.
Greater transparency and more timely sharing of sequence data has been a goal of many researchers and stakeholders alike. The GISAID platform spans national borders and scientific disciplines, with leaders in the fields of veterinary medicine, human medicine, bioinformatics, epidemiology and intellectual property. This cross-disciplinary effort provides new means to communicate and share information, as each discipline has distinct interests but also shares similar goals. The Initiative came together to work around restrictions, which have previously prevented specifically the sharing of information on avian influenza (a.k.a. bird flu), with the hope that more shared information will help researchers understand how viruses spread, evolve, and potentially become pandemic, anticipating that its EpiFlu database will be a substantial improvement over previously available databases, by promoting influenza data to becoming available more quickly and to a wider audience than has been possible in the past.
The GISAID Initiative was initially funded by Peter Bogner—a strategic advisor and international broadcasting executive—who serves as its founder and principal facilitator. Bogner has been directing the build-up of this platform by bringing together the world's leading scientists and stakeholders who are actively committed to accelerating understanding of this potential human pandemic by rapidly sharing scientific data and results.
On 2006-01-28 Bogner met with US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and was told about the US Government's preparedness concept on dealing with the potential of a flu pandemic. Concerns about a pandemic scenario heightened.
Since the inception of the Initiative, Bogner announced his plans to transition out of a day-to-day role as the Chief Executive of The Bogner Organization, to allow him to devote more time to working with the GISAID Foundation as its director.
On 2006-12-19, GISAID signed a cooperation agreement with the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, which leads a Swiss consortium to manage the GISAID Database on influenza virus strains. Under this agreement, the Geneva-based institute is to provide services for the secure storage and analysis of genetic, epidemiological and clinical data.
On 2007-03-28, Siti Fadilah Supari, Indonesia’s Minister of Health, announced the Indonesian government supports the formation of the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Database (GISAID) following a high-level WHO meeting in Jakarta on Responsible Practices for Sharing Avian Influenza Viruses.
On 2007-04-16, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences reaffirmed its endorsement of GISAID stating it shares the same ideals regarding free exchange and responsible sharing of information of avian influenza and emerging infectious diseases.
On 2007-04-17, the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina welcomes the creation of the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data for “it promotes one of the key values in scientific research: collaboration and integration between scientists in order to achieve improved outcomes for the benefit of human and animal health.”
On 2010-04-20, the Federal Republic of Germany announced during the 7th International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza in Hanoi, Vietnam that the GISAID Initiative entered into a cooperation agreement with the German government, making Germany the long-term host of the GISAID platform. Under the agreement, Germany, represented by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection BMELV, will ensure the sustainability of the initiative by providing through its Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) the technical hosting facilities of the GISAID platform and EpiFlu™ database, located in Bonn. Germany's Federal Institute for Animal Health the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) located on the Isle of Riems, will ensure the plausibility and curation of scientific data in GISAID to meet scientific standards.
GISAID's governance structure provides for several organizational bodies that operate independently of each other, with the aim to guard against bias in decision-making. GISAID’s administrative affairs are overseen by a Board of Trustees expected to minimize potential conflicts of interest concerning GISAID's funding sources; Scientific oversight of the initiative comes from its Scientific Advisory Council made up of directors of leading public health laboratories including all six WHO Collaborating Centres for Influenza, and directors of [animal health] reference laboratories for research on Avian influenza for the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; to improve the functional capabilities of the EpiFlu™ database GISAID's Database Technical Group, composed of experts in virus sequencing and bioinformatics, is representing the user community to interact with software and developers of tool for analysis.
A difficulty that GISAID's Data Access Agreement attempts to address is that many researchers fear sharing of influenza sequence data could facilitate its misappropriation through intellectual property claims by the vaccine industry and others, hindering access to vaccines and other items in developing countries, either through high costs or by preventing technology transfer. While most public interest experts agree with GISAID that influenza sequence data should be made public, and this is the subject of agreement by many researchers, some provide the information only after filing patent claims while others have said that access to it should be only on the condition that no patents or other intellectual property claims are filed. GISAID's Data Access Agreement addresses this directly to promote sharing data. GISAID's procedures additionally suggest that those who access the EpiFlu database consult the countries of origin of genetic sequences and the researchers who discovered the sequences.
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