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GISAID Initiative
Official GISAID logo
FormationMay 2008; 12 years ago (May 2008)
TypeNonprofit organization
PurposeGlobal health, research, education
HeadquartersMunich, Germany
Area served
MethodDonations and grants
Key people
Peter Bogner, (president)[1] Ron A.M. Fouchier and John W. McCauley (co-chairs Scientific Advisory Council)[2]

GISAID is a global science initiative and primary source for genomic data of influenza viruses[3] and the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.[4] Since its establishment in 2008, as an alternative to sharing avian influenza data[5] via conventional public-domain archives,[3][6] GISAID is recognized for incentivizing rapid exchange of outbreak data[6] during the H1N1 pandemic[7][8] in 2009, the H7N9 epidemic[9][10] in 2013, and the COVID-19 pandemic[11][12] in 2020.

GISAID was recognized for its importance to global health by G20 health ministers in 2017.[13]

In 2020, GISAID entered into the global research effort to understand SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, by making available genomic sequences that are modeled in real time, thereby helping to detect viral mutations and track movement of the virus across the planet.[14] As of June 2020, nearly 54,000 such SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences had been added to the GISAID database by more than 450 laboratories around the world.[15][16]


The idea for GISAID (an acronym standing for Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data)[17] was first discussed in 2006[18] with the call for a new global initiative on sharing avian flu data[19] 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[20] signed by over 70 leading scientists including seven Nobel laureates. Scientists who collected DNA sequences for the H5N1 flu did not want to immediately upload these sequences to databases such as EMBL, DDBJ and GenBank, because those database are public-domain[21]. The original intent was to upload GISAID sequence data to public databases within 6 months[20].


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.

GISAID Next Generation Sequencing Workshop (Institute Pasteur, Paris 2015)

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[citation needed], 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 2006-11-20, the Initiative received the endorsement of both The Royal Society and Academy of Medical Sciences.[22]

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[23] 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.”[24]

Official signing ceremony with GISAID President Peter Bogner (l) and German State Secretary Robert Kloos Source: BMELV (Berlin, April 2010)

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[25] with the German government, making Germany the long-term host of the GISAID platform.[26] 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[27] 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[28] 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.[29]


Unlike public-domain databases such as GenBank and EMBL, users of GISAID must have their identity confirmed and agree to a Database Access Agreement[30] that governs the way GISAID data can be used. These Terms of Use prevent users from sharing any data with other users who have not agreed to the Terms of Use. The Terms of Use require that users of the data must acknowledge the data generators in published work, and also make a reasonable attempt to collaborate with data generators and involve them in research and analysis that uses their data.


On May 5, 2020 the Nextstrain project[31] modified its distribution of a table that contained geographic locations for COVID-19 genome samples[32]. This was because GISAID requested that the Nextstrain project stop sharing this file, as it broke the terms of use that say "You agree not to distribute Data to any third party other than Authorized Users as contemplated by this Agreement."[33] The table code "gratefully acknowledges" the GISAID contributors and advises researchers to download data directly from GISAID.

Intellectual property[edit]

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.


  1. ^ huaxia (November 1, 2019). "Chinese experts call for global cooperation in flu prevention". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  2. ^ "Governance & Expertise: Scientific Advisory Council". GISAID. 2020. Retrieved July 7, 2020. The Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) comprises leading influenza scientists with expertise in epidemiology, human and veterinary virology and bioinformatics.
  3. ^ a b Shu, Yuelong; McCauley, John (2017). "GISAID: Global initiative on sharing all influenza data – from vision to reality". Eurosurveillance. 22 (13). doi:10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2017.22.13.30494. PMC 5388101. PMID 28382917.
  4. ^ Korber, Bette (April 30, 2020). "Spike mutation pipeline reveals the emergence of a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2". bioRXiv. doi:10.1101/2020.04.29.069054. Retrieved June 4, 2020. GISAID is the primary COVID-19 sequence database resource
  5. ^ McDowell, Robin (May 15, 2008). "Indonesia hands over bird flu data to new database". Fox News. Associated Press. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Elbe, Stefan; Buckland-Merrett, Gemma (January 10, 2017). "Data, disease and diplomacy: GISAID's innovative contribution to global health". Global Challenges. 1(1): 33–46.
  7. ^ Schnirring, Lisa (June 25, 2009). "Pandemic reveals strengths of new flu database". Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  8. ^ "Viral gene sequences to assist update diagnostics for swine influenza A(H1N1)" (PDF). World Health Organization. April 25, 2009. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  9. ^ "The fight against bird flu". Nature. 496 (7446): 397. April 24, 2013.
  10. ^ Larson, Christina (April 10, 2013). "CDC Races to Create a Vaccine for China's Latest Bird Flu Strain". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  11. ^ Prasad, R. (January 19, 2020). "What is the source of the new SARS-like disease reported in China?". The Hindu. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  12. ^ Ng, Kang-chung (January 12, 2020). "Wuhan pneumonia: Hong Kong set to develop new test for mystery virus after obtaining genetic sequence from mainland China". South China Morning Post. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  13. ^ G20 (20 May 2017). "Berlin Declaration of the G20 Health Ministers" (PDF). German Ministry of Health. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  14. ^ Jameel, Shahid (2 April 2020). "Coronavirus pandemic highlights key need for science and partnerships". The Telegraph (Kolkata). Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  15. ^ Boyle, Alan (June 11, 2020). "Amid COVID-19 pandemic, experts lay out 10-point plan for a genomic revolution in public health". GeekWire. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  16. ^ Thomas, Liji (June 28, 2020). "Genomics used to trace origin of SARS-CoV-2 in Canada". News Medical. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  17. ^ Jameel, Shahid (2 April 2020). "Coronavirus pandemic highlights key need for science and partnerships". The Telegraph (Kolkata). Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  18. ^ Zamiska, Nicholas (30 August 2006). "A Nonscientist Pushes Sharing Bird-Flu Data'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  19. ^ "Editorial, Boosting access to disease data". Nature. 442 (7106): 957. 31 August 2006. doi:10.1038/442957a. PMID 16943803.
  20. ^ a b "A global initiative on sharing avian flu data". Nature. 31 August 2006.
  21. ^, accessed 8 May 2020
  22. ^ [irrelevant citation]
  23. ^ "Indonesia supports formation of bird flu data exchange center". Xinhua News Agency, People Daily, P.R. China. 1 April 2007.
  24. ^ "Akademie Leopoldina begrüßt Einrichtung der GISAID Initiative zur Bekämpfung der Vogelgrippe". Informationsdienst Wissenschaft. 17 April 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  25. ^ "Influenza pathogen database of global significance set up in Bonn". BMEL Homepage. 15 April 2010. Archived from the original on 3 January 2017. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  26. ^ "Germany’s Statement on Substantive Issues and Concerns Regarding the PIP Framework and its Implementation, Special Session of the PIP Advisory Group, 13 October 2015", World Health Organization, Geneva. Retrieved on 2016-11-08.
  27. ^ "GISAID Datenbank liefert grundlegende Informationen für Bekämpfungsstrategien" (PDF). BLE Homepage. 16 April 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 January 2017. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  28. ^ GISAID Governance structure, accessed 23 November 2016
  29. ^ "GISAID-WHO Training Workshop, Genetic Analyses of Influenza Viruses", St. Petersburg". Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation. 28–29 August 2014.
  30. ^ GISAID Database Access Agreement [1], accessed 8 May 2020
  31. ^ " Real-time tracking of pathogen evolution"
  32. ^ "Github code change removing metadata table".
  33. ^ "[2] Github issue describing GISAID removal request"

External links[edit]