The Fonds de recherche du Québec – santé (FRQS) announced the launch of the Quebec COVID Biobank, a Province-wide initiative to enable the collection, storage and sharing of samples and data related to the COVID-19 crisis. The task force that has been mobilized to enact this effort is led by McGill University’s Dr. Vincent Mooser, who is helped by additional medical and scientific experts from McGill and several other Quebec institutions. Among the other leaders of the task force are Dr. Brent Richards, a genetic epidemiologist at the Lady Davis Institute and endocrinologist at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH).
The Biobank will begin operations on April 1, 2020.
More research is critically needed to better understand COVID-19 infection and transmission in order to identify at-risk individuals, protect them, and improve treatment of this disease. Hospitals need data to be able to decide who will need admission and ventilation. Research can provide information to help make these decisions, and the first step is to collect samples and data from infected individuals. All such data collection must take place in an appropriate legal and ethical framework that fully respects the privacy of individual patients. Further complicating matters is the extreme urgency of the task, which requires the coordination of disparate data systems, the establishment of new standard operating procedures, and the securing of physical and digital infrastructure, all in an extremely compressed period of time.
These considerations underline the decision made by FRQS to create the Québec-wide Biobank for COVID.
“Having access to high-quality data and samples is a fundamental necessity to respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Dr. Mooser, from the McGill Genome Centre and Department of Human Genetics at McGill University and Chair of the Biobank Task Force. “Assembling this network is a vital task in order to meet the primary needs of the Quebec health community and to build up national and international collaborations, so that we all can find effective treatments and vaccines against this lethal contagion.”
“If we are to prevent the hospital system from becoming overwhelmed we need to be able to predict when COVID positive patients can be sent home safely; which will require ventilators; and how to use genetics and other risk factors to identify targets to develop COVID therapies,” explained Dr. Richards. “We will do so by rapidly mobilizing our large research team of scientists and leading artificial intelligence teams both in Montreal and around the world, and sharing our data with clinical and public health teams. Given our investments in biobanking and digital information at the Jewish General Hospital, we are well-positioned to play a leadership role in helping to lessen the damage of the COVID pandemic.”
The Québec Biobank for COVID network of major hospitals includes the MUHC, the Jewish General Hospital, the CHUM, Sainte-Justine Hospital, Sherbrooke University Hospital Centre, Laval University Hospital Centre, Chicoutimi Hospital (affiliated with Université du Québec à Chicoutimi) and the Montreal Heart Institute. The initiative will be run by a task force composed of the following members: Dr. Mooser (Chair, McGill University), Dr Carole Jabet (FRQS Representative, FRQS), Dr. Michael Chassé (IT and AI, University of Montreal), Dr. Simon Rousseau (Network, McGill University), Dr. Daniel Kaufman (Scientific projects, University of Montreal), Yann Joly (Ethical, Legal and Social Issues, McGill University), Dr. Dan Auld (Operations, McGill University), Dr. Richards (Collaborations with CLSA/CARTaGENE, McGill University). The activities of this Task Force will be overseen by a Governance Committee. McGill-affiliated Hospitals will be represented on this Committee by Drs Donald Vinh (MUHC), Bruce Mazer (MUHC-RI), and Richards (JGH).
To meet its primary objective, and as a matter of extreme urgency, the Quebec Biobank for COVID will capitalize on the existing infrastructures and strengths in the Province, more specifically:
- The existing biobank of the Quebec Respiratory Health Research Network (Réseau de Recherche en Santé Respiratoire du Québec [RSRQ])
- The Clinical Research Centers (CRCs) at the partner institutions
- Population-based cohorts (CARTaGENE and CLSA)
- Existing consent forms and protocols already approved by local Institutional Review Boards for collection and analyses of patients
- IT and AI capabilities in the various institutions and in the Province (MILA)
- Génome Québec/Canada infrastructure and network
- Canada Foundation for Innovation funded infrastructure and networks, such as CGEn
- Other national and international networks.