CoVaRR-Net Biobank & Data Platform
To accelerate CoVaRR-Net’s research response to characterize viral variants, and central to the network’s mandate, a SARS-CoV-2-focussed biobank has been established. The CoVaRR-Net Biobank’s objective is to quickly share materials and information with network members across Canada, and industry partners as needed. The CoVaRR-Net Data Platform supports the storage and management of metadata associated with materials in the Biobank.
The Contents of the CoVaRR-Net Biobank
A biobank is a repository of biological materials such as specimens collected from humans or animals as well as pathogens (e.g., viruses) and research reagents, following best practices (e.g., guidelines promoted by the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories, ISBER).
The CoVaRR-Net Biobank collects, stores, and rapidly distributes well-annotated reference biological specimens such as white blood cells, serum, saliva, plasma, viruses, and research reagents. These specimens are collected from subgroups relevant to pandemic research: uninfected, convalescent (i.e., recovering), vaccinated unexposed, vaccinated convalescent, immunized with different vaccine products, etc. Importantly, the Biobank strives for inclusive representation (e.g., sex, age, and ethnicity) for this reference material. Samples from individuals infected with different variants of concern are actively recruited to CoVaRR-Net’s Biobank. As the network transitions to pandemic preparedness, this effort will be expanded to include samples from other viruses and other pathogenic microorganisms, as required.
A Unique National Biobank
Sharing biological materials and data between partnering research institutions is not always simple and generally requires several layers of ethical and legal approval. The processes for obtaining ethics protocol approvals and fully executed contracts can sometimes slow down rapid-response research efforts during a pandemic if not thoughtfully established in advance. Firstly, the CoVaRR-Net Biobank has established the use of approved, broad, provincial, multi-jurisdictional research ethics protocols as an additional tool to begin specimen and data collection more rapidly in an emergency. Secondly, CoVaRR-Net utilizes a Universal Data and Biological Materials Transfer Agreement (UDBMTA), vetted by more than 26 Canadian research institutions, to facilitate the rapid sharing of reagents and data. Finally, CoVaRR-Net has intentionally chosen a federated model to share resources and data that ensures partner biobanks retain custody over the materials and data they collect and store, and privacy is honoured through a strict de-identification process.
About Cataloguing & Oversight
The contents of the CoVaRR-Net Biobank are catalogued using a customized biobank information management software (BIMS). The Biobank is designed to expand its storage capacity and scientific services, as needed, and hence is adaptable in a pandemic preparedness context. The Network’s Bioethics and Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDI&I) directors provide oversight on sample collection, de-identification and banking processes.
Helping to Prepare for Future Pandemics
CoVaRR-Net believes it is essential to plan for future pandemics, whether they will be caused by viruses or microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi and is currently laying the foundations to eventually morph into a Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness Network.
The CoVaRR-Net Biobank and Data Platform are integral to such a plan, with a sustainable, national infrastructure that is ready to access in the face of an infectious threat to the health of the Canadian public.
CoVaRR-Net’s Data Platform
The Biobank works alongside the CoVaRR-Net Data Platform, which supports the storage and management of metadata associated with materials of the Biobank. The design and operations of the CoVaRR-Net Data Platform are guided by FAIR principles: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.
An Easily Accessible Research Resource
A core component of this effort is to create a publicly accessible biobank catalogue that will enable researchers and collaborators to quickly query and share information pertaining to collected biological material within CoVaRR-Net as well as across our biobank partners. Specifically, the Data Platform’s dashboards will permit interested researchers to search the sample repository catalogue and database using a base set of query criteria. If a researcher is then interested in accessing these resources, an application process is available and will be streamlined for review by a Scientific Review Panel and facilitated by our Biobank Director. The UDBMTA is also applicable to the sharing of these data.
This data infrastructure will also support the recently formed Canadian COVID-19 Biobank and Data Alliance. This new partnership has begun to link several COVID-19 biobanks in Canada who collectively support this national effort to share data and biological material resources in a pandemic preparedness fashion. Supported by the CoVaRR-Net Data Platform, the Alliance will work towards a common data model and support the harmonization of metadata across partner biobanks’ catalogues.
Angela M. Crawley
Senior Scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Associate Professor, University of Ottawa
Adjunct Professor, Carleton University
Biobank Clinical Associate Director
Associate Professor, McGill University
Medical Microbiologist, McGill University Health Centre
Biobank Clinical Associate Director
Professor of Medicine, University of Ottawa
Scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
CoVaRR-Net Data Platform
Data Platform Director
Chair in Primary Health Care in Dementia, uOttawa Brain and Mind-Bruyère Research Institute
Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa
Data Platform Associate Director
Professor, McGill University
Canada Research Chair in Computational Genomics and Medicine