The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Swiss Confederation today, May 24, 2021 signed a Memorandum of Understanding to launch the first WHO BioHub Facility. This facility will enhance the rapid sharing of viruses and other pathogens between laboratories and partners globally. It is part of the WHO BioHub System which was announced in November 2020.
The facility is situated in Spiez, Switzerland. It will serve as a centre for the safe receipt, sequencing, storage and preparation of biological materials for distribution to other laboratories. According to the WHO, this will help inform risk assessments, and sustain global preparedness against these pathogens.
Swiss Federal Councillor, Alain Berset indicated that Switzerland is ready to support an international exchange system for emerging pathogens and especially the SARS-CoV-2. He also highlighted the significance of such collaborations to share biological materials.
“Close international collaboration to ensure the timely sharing of epidemiological and clinical data as well as biological materials is of utmost importance. Switzerland supports the WHO BioHub initiative in its initial phase by providing the necessary infrastructure of a Swiss biosafety laboratory in Spiez. With this, we hope to contribute to the establishment of an international exchange system for SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging pathogens” .Swiss Federal Councillor Alain Berset
Bilateral sharing of pathogens
Meanwhile, the WHO indicated that currently, most pathogen sharing takes place bilaterally between countries and on an ad hoc basis. But, according to the WHO, this can be slow, and leave some countries without access to the benefits and tools.
As a result, the WHO stated that the BioHub will enable Member States to share biological materials with and via the BioHub under pre-agreed conditions. Some of these conditions include biosafety, biosecurity, and other applicable regulations. This will ensure timeliness and predictability in response activities.
Furthermore, the WHO Director-General highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic and and epidemics have underscored the importance of rapidly sharing pathogens. According to him, this will help the global scientific community assess the risk and develop countermeasures such as diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The Director-General expressed his gratitude to the Swiss government for its support in establishing the facility.
“The BioHub System is an important step towards facilitating this flow of information. We thank the Swiss Government for its support in establishing the first BioHub Facility” .Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Expansion of the BioHub System
Meanwhile, the WHO has pledged to broaden its BioHub System for qualified entities to use its biological materials. This mostly include manufacturers, for the development of medical by-products for fair allocation to countries.
Moreover, the WHO pointed out that it is currently running a pilot phase, using SARS-COV-2 and its variants. The aim is to test the feasibility and operational arrangements for sharing such materials with the facilities of the BioHub System.
WHO further stated that the BioHub will expand from SARS-COV-2 and its variants, to other pathogens. By so doing, it will also help connect partners with other repositories and laboratory networks by 2022.