Rush University Medical Center is the first partner in the United States in the Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition, an effort led by Abbott to detect future pathogen outbreaks that could become pandemics. This first-of-its-kind scientific network is enlisting partners around the world to provide laboratory testing, genetic sequencing and public health research to analyze the potential risk level of newly identified pathogens, develop new diagnostic testing and understand the public health impact of the pathogens identified in real time.
“Rush has been on the frontlines during COVID-19,” said Alan Landay, PhD, professor and vice chairperson for research in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College and principal investigator at Rush. “We witnessed firsthand what it was like to have people lined up in our emergency room. We want to take the lessons we learned from this pandemic to help prevent this from happening again.”
The coalition will help the global scientific and health community identify new viral strains and take quick action to help contain and prevent future pandemics. The sequences of viruses that are found will be published in a public database, so that public health officials and laboratories can work together to identify if a virus is a novel strain, or a virus that has previously been detected.
“We will work with Abbott to raise the flag if we see an undiagnosable illness in our hospital,” Landay said. “We will then work with the entire coalition to conduct sequencing to determine if the strain is a new pathogen that could become a viral threat. The program is strategically positioned to connect partners in key areas around the world who can identify unknown diseases and carry out lab testing to address future threats.”
A global force of scientific experts
The Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition brings together expert global collaborators specializing in virus identification, surveillance, sample collection, testing and data analytics. The process to identify potential new viral threats begins with physicians across the network identifying patients with unknown conditions that they cannot treat or diagnose.
Next, patient samples are tested by the program organizations, followed by genetic sequencing and analyses to spot trends and identify peculiarities that may indicate an emerging threat or outbreak. If a potential threat is discovered, Abbott quickly will develop and deploy diagnostic testing to assist global public health agencies in anticipating the viral threat and help try to contain or stop the virus’ spread before it becomes a pandemic.
"We cannot fight what we cannot see coming. This program establishes a global network of eyes on the ground that are always looking for threats, which helps the global health community to stay one step ahead of the next viral threat, and allows us to utilize Abbott's expertise and technology to quickly develop tests to address them," said Gavin Cloherty, Ph.D., head of infectious disease research at Abbott.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated a clear need for advanced surveillance and viral sequencing – and the critically important role of testing. Understanding what pathogenic threats are emerging will help us test, diagnose and ultimately help prevent the next pandemic."
“We don’t ever want to be caught off-guard again like we were with COVID. Knowledge is power and time is of the essence,” Landay said. “The more collaborators you have who are working together towards the common goal of stopping further threats, the more prepared we’ll be to track and prevent future pandemics.”
In addition to Rush, the growing network of partners currently includes the following organizations in strategic geographic locations:
- Colombia/Wisconsin One-Health Consortium at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellin, Colombia
- Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand
- Institut de Recherche en Santé, de Surveillance Epidémiologique et de Formations (IRESSEF), Dakar, Senegal
- KRISP, Genomic Centre of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
- The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica
- Universidade de Sa ̃o Paulo, Sa ̃o Paulo, Brazil
- YRG Care, Chennai, India
The program is in talks with additional non-governmental organizations, governments and research centers of excellence regarding participation and collaboration.