Policy ForumGlobal Health

Threats to timely sharing of pathogen sequence data

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Science  26 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6413, pp. 404-406
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5229

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Pathogen genome sequence databases are taking over important functions of physical collections of microbial and viral cultures (biobanks), adding functionalities for worldwide rapid sharing of pathogen genetic resources in support of research and outbreak response (1). But biobanks and databases also have to respect the ownership and rights of the sample and data providers, including the sovereign right of states to decide on the use of their resources [as stated in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (2)]. Where domestic or international regulation in this regard is absent or unclear, the integrity of databases and biobanks can be threatened by divergent interpretations, potentially leading to perceived violation of globally agreed sovereignty rights. In particular, the impact of the Nagoya Protocol (NP) to the CBD on public health and infectious disease control is highly debated and focused now on whether genetic sequence data (GSD) fall within the scope of the NP, which thus far has concentrated on access to physical samples. With this question on the agenda of the upcoming CBD Conference of the Parties (17 to 29 November) (3), we explore possible adaptations of existing biobank frameworks to support efficient transfer of pathogen genetic resources (PGR) during public health emergencies.