Background material re 24 Aug 2006 blog post: Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data

1. Links to recent key events

22 August 2006. CDC and APHL Make Influenza Virus Sequence Data Publicly Accessible “Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released genetic blueprints for over 650 genes of influenza viruses into a database accessible to researchers worldwide. The action marks the beginning of a collaboration between the CDC and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) that will allow for greater access to data on a variety of influenza virus samples obtained from patients in the United States, including avian influenza H5N1 if it should arrive here.”
4 August 2006. The Jakarta Post (4 August 2006); ‘Bird flu data now open to all "Bowing to international pressure, Indonesia has said foreign scientists can have full access to the country’s data on bird flu, the infectious disease that has claimed 43 lives here.

In its July 13 edition, the respected journal Nature reported scientists were complaining that they were hindered from studying the virus because the Indonesian government had declined to release the data from bird flu samples.”
21 July 2006. OFFLU keeps its pace on global sharing virus samples “OFFLU, the OIE/FAO joint network of expertise on avian influenza, will systematically make avian influenza virus sequences accessible to the entire scientific community. With this gesture OFFLU reiterates its call to the world scientists, international organisations and countries for a global sharing of virus strains and sequences.”
29 June 2006. Congress members call to free H5N1 gene sequences “Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Ohio) and Wayne Gilchrest (Republican, Maryland) are circulating a letter in the House of Representatives that calls on Michael Levitt, the US health secretary, to require H5N1 sequences and other publicly funded research data “to be promptly deposited in a publicly accessible database, such as GenBank.”
16 February 2006 Ilaria Capua, a flu researcher in Italy, refuses to keep her data in a closed network, and publishes it in the public Genbank database “Virus strains can be considered as intellectual property and sharing them can be seen as potentially hampering research progress and scientific publication. However, OFFLU went forward on February 16th 2006 when Dr. Ilaria Capua of the Italian Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie (Italy) and Chair of the Scientific Committee of OFFLU, released sequence data of the H5N1 virus found in Nigeria and Italy on GenBank. In the meantime, she urged 50 colleagues around the world to share their isolated H5N1 virus strains.”

2. Links to some of Nature’s coverage on this topic over the past 18 months
Date Title Excerpt
24 August 2006. Correspondence. ‘A global initiative on sharing avian flu data ‘The current level of collection and sharing of data is inadequate, however, given the magnitude of the threat. We propose to expand and complement existing efforts with the creation of a global consortium — the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID; — that would foster international sharing of avian influenza isolates and data.’
26 July 2006. News. 'Bird flu outbreaks in Indonesia going unstudied' ”Nature has learned that very few — if any — avian flu samples from Indonesian birds have been sent to official labs for sequencing over the past year.

We have had no sequence data from poultry viruses for Indonesia for almost a year, since last August,” says Peter Roeder, a consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Indonesia. “It just happened; no one was sending any samples,” he says.”"
13 July 2006. News. “Family tragedy spotlights flu mutations “But Paul Gully, who joined the WHO two months ago as senior adviser to Margaret Chan, head of the agency’s pandemic-flu efforts, defends the agency’s position. He points out that the WHO’s priority is investigating outbreaks, not academic research. And he adds that although calls for more complete genome data and wider sharing of samples are “a valid point”, labs are stretched during outbreaks, and don’t have the time or resources to do high-quality sequencing.

He agrees that sharing samples with other researchers would allow such work to be done. But he says the WHO must work within the constraints set by its member states — they own the data, and decide whether to share it. “As more countries share data, hopefully that research will get done,” he says. The WHO has not formally asked Indonesia to share the sequences, Gully adds. “We would rather wait and see what Indonesia decides.”"
29 June 2006. Editorial. ‘Action Stations “The time for sitting on flu data is over.

Concern about the accessibility of data on flu strains remains an acute issue, which research administrators and political leaders should step forward and address.

Indonesia has become the hot spot of avian flu, with the virus spreading quickly in animal populations, and human cases occurring more often there than elsewhere. Yet from 51 reported human cases so far — 39 of them fatal — the genetic sequence of only one flu virus strain has been deposited in GenBank, the publicly accessible database for such information.”
30 March 2006. Correspondence. ‘Shared data are key to beating threat from flu “Keeping sequences secret, whatever the motivation, slows down scientific progress and hinders efforts to protect public health.
It is time for the community of influenza researchers to recognize, as the human genome sequencing project did ten years ago, that immediate public release of sequence data provides the greatest benefits to human health.”
16 March 2006. Editorial ‘Dreams of flu data “Many scientists and organizations are also hoarding sequence data, often for years, so they can be the first to publish in academic journals. With the world facing a possible pandemic, such practices are wholly unacceptable. Nature and its associated journals are not alone in supporting the rapid prior exposure of data when there are acute public-health necessities.”
1 March 2006. News. ‘Disease surveillance needs a revolution “Avian flu is now endemic across large parts of Asia, and in the past few weeks has exploded across Europe and into Africa. “H5N1 has focused the spotlight of the world on disease surveillance, and it’s showing up all the pimples and warts,” says Bill Davenhall, who develops health mapping schemes for countries and is head of health at ESRI, a geographic information systems company in Redlands, California.

Developing countries, in particular, lack decent human-disease surveillance, and animal monitoring is often virtually nonexistent, with few basic laboratory and epidemiological resources available.”
13 October 2005. Editorial. ‘From rhetoric to reality' “Many scientists in affected countries are reluctant to cooperate with what often seems to them a one-way street. Hospitals in these countries often have barely enough antivirals to treat existing cases, and lack diagnostics. A better atmosphere for sharing will only come if rich nations offer these countries true cooperation and substantial aid in research and health infrastructure to deal with outbreaks.”
21 September 2005. News. ‘Flu researchers slam US agency for hoarding data “Influenza researchers are complaining that the poor sharing of data by the US disease-control agency is hindering their work.”
6 July 2005. News. ‘Flu officials pull back from raising global alert level’ “Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, says that much of the uncertainty over the prevalence of H5N1 could be avoided if Vietnam had better facilities for testing samples locally. “The international community continues to suggest that countries ship samples out somewhere else,” he says, “while doing absolutely nothing to invest in enhancing the scientific capacity of the Vietnamese to respond to the epidemics themselves.””
26 May 2005. Editorial. ‘On a wing and a prayer “We should be monitoring in almost real time the genetic changes in the avian and human viruses that could herald the emergence of a pandemic strain, for example. But there is no international funding to help affected countries build decent and sustained surveillance programmes. And while outside researchers want data from affected countries, they aren’t engaging enough in the meaningful collaboration needed to build trust and open sharing. The international community is not offering incentives, such as drugs for the Asian countries that would be in the front line of a pandemic. Combine this with the fact that countries are reluctant to share the few data they have because their analysis could affect their trade and economies, and the current mess in surveillance is hardly surprising.”

“To understand the genetics, and link this to the epidemiology and pathology of the virus, we need immediate sharing of all virus samples and data. None of this is happening adequately.”
12 May 2005. News. “‘Refusal to share’ leaves agency struggling to monitor bird flu "Tracking genetic changes in bird-flu viruses is vital for early warning of a human pandemic. But Nature has discovered that it is nearly eight months since the World Health Organization (WHO) last saw data on isolates from infected poultry in Asia.”
5 May 2005. News. ‘Bureaucracy stymies flu tactics’ “”Without fast reporting and detection of cases, the world is gambling away the small (and unproven) chance we have of stopping an emerging pandemic in its tracks:” Klaus Stöhr, WHO.”
12 January 2005. News Feature. ‘Vietnam’s war on flu. ‘Kenjiro Inui, a virologist seconded to the National Institute of Veterinary Research in Hanoi by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, echoes Farrar’s view. After the initial outbreak, he says, the institute was deluged with requests from foreign scientists who wanted to come and collect samples for their projects. But it was unclear how this would benefit the Vietnamese partners. And offers to help Vietnamese scientists build their monitoring infrastructure were thin on the ground.

“Everyone is welcome,” says Inui, “but you can’t come here just to get samples…” Inui’s colleague Nguyen Tien Dung glances at him wryly and finishes his sentence for him: “…and then run away.”’