As the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has shown, epidemics and pandemics are not just things from the past. In our modern society, we are more connected than ever and this offers a unique opportunity to unite our forces and create new systems to share information about emerging pathogens more rapidly, invest in surveillance and stimulate the development of diagnostic products, devices, therapeutics, etc.
The current systems are based on bilateral sharing of pathogens and on an ad hoc basis : a system that is getting outdated and insufficient for our modern needs. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: “There is an urgent need for a globally agreed system for sharing pathogen materials that cannot be based on bilateral agreements, and cannot take years to negotiate, to facilitate the rapid development of medical countermeasures as global public goods.”
The WHO BioHub System will promote collaboration and cooperation with existing networks, repositories, and scientific groups to strengthen knowledge and contribute to the advancement of effective, efficient, fair and equitable response to epidemic or pandemic public health occurrences.
Luxembourg has the unique opportunity to join a small group of countries (including Italy, Egypt, Thailand, Switzerland and Japan and Peru) to participate in the first pilot phase of this WHO BioHub project, which is dedicated to SARS-CoV-2.
In a second phase at the end of 2022, the system will be expanded to other pathogens to include other commercial qualified entities and connect it with existing repositories and laboratory systems.
During the first pilot phase, countries will share and input their biological samples into the virtual WHO BioHub System on a voluntary basis. The samples will then become available for qualified entities for both non-commercial and commercial use. This system will further contribute to expanding knowledge and advancing technical work on high-threat pathogens.
The success of the LuxMicroBiobank has not gone unnoticed and the LNS has been nominated by the Ministry of Health to represent Luxembourg in the WHO BioHub initiative and a material transfer agreement is currently being prepared.
Currently, the LuxMicroBiobank already hosts more than 37.000 SARS-CoV-2 positive samples (since Mars 2020) in two -80°C freezers. The LuxMicroBiobank and R&D teams are in the phase to finalise automating the workflow in cooperation with the IT department. This will allow the LuxMicroBiobank to be further extended and to establish an International Center of Excellence in the Microbiology department at the Laboratoire National de Santé.
As soon as the SARS-COV-2 was first detected in Luxembourg, a plan was drawn up to establish a dedicated microbial biobank to ensure storage of clinical samples in a timely manner in order to facilitate the rapid characterisation of the virus either via sequencing or virus culture. The LuxMicroBiobank was launched in May 2020 to host all positive SARS-CoV-2 samples and to serve as a resource for approving new diagnostic methods in Luxembourg by offering fair and equitable access to anonymised clinical samples to all partners based on public health needs.
The evolution of the LuxMicroBiobank since last year, as an automated workflow is being introduced to maintain the traceability of submitted samples including the sample processing from reception till storage or the supporting database with full characterization of each sample.
As of 15/11, the LuxMicrobiobank hosts 37.398 SARS-CoV-2-positive samples, and we are developing further storage capacity to establish an international hub for emerging pathogens in a state-of-the-art biobanking facility dedicated to Microbial pathogens.