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.