Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partner to detect infectious disease spread

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub on Oct. 16 unveiled the soft launch of an analytics platform to surveil infectious diseases, rolled out with the support of another technology billionaire's philanthropy: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Joseph DeRisi, PhD, co-president of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UC San Francisco, revealed details of the cloud-based platform, dubbed IDseq, during the Gates Grand Challenges meeting in Berlin.

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub is a collaborative effort of UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Stanford (Calif.) University funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, MD. Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg launched their other philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in 2015 with the mission to cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century.

In September, Mr. Zuckerberg said he planned to sell $13 billion in Facebook stock to fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

IDseq, which began as a research project in Dr. DeRisi's lab at UCSF, can rapidly comb through terabytes — or 1,000 gigabytes — of metagenomic data to detect disease-causing pathogens from bacteria, virus, fungus or parasite samples. Dr. DeRisi hopes that by revealing trends in global pathogen distribution, IDseq will be able to help researchers respond to and manage infectious disease outbreaks.

"Pathogens don't respect geographic borders," Dr. DeRisi said in a news release. "The global health community needs the ability to share data quickly to track outbreaks or emerging diseases. With IDseq, we hope to empower data-driven decisions about how to better manage antibiotics, where to prioritize immunization campaigns, [and] how to shape vector control and surveillance efforts."

Through an ongoing pilot project and partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers have already used IDseq to identify an unknown infection at a hospital in Bangladesh as a mosquito-borne viral disease called chikungunya.

Now, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is expanding the pilot by offering other clinics and labs worldwide funding for next-generation genome sequencers, training for molecular biology and bioinformatics, and access to IDseq. These pilot projects will help the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub continue developing IDseq, which they hope to one day make available worldwide.

"The ultimate vision for IDseq is for it to be a dashboard of real-time pathogen detection around the world," Dr. Chan explained in a news release. "Nothing like this exists — but it could be a major step forward in our ability to cure, prevent or manage all disease. These are exactly the types of advances we envisioned when we started the Biohub."

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub plan to make IDseq available to its partner organizations within the next year. As an open-source project, IDseq's software is already freely available online.

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