German government to host flu database

Oct 20, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – The German Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Consumer Protection (BMELV) today announced that it has agreed to host the influenza gene sequence database of the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), putting its future on a more solid footing as the world enters the second wave of the H1N1 flu pandemic.

GISAID, a nonprofit organization, relaunched its widely used EpiFlu database in mid September after its former contractor blocked access to the database from the GISAID site. Despite the speed bump, the World Health Organization's collaborating centers used GISAID’s new database in September to select the seasonal flu strains for the Southern Hemisphere's 2010 flu vaccine. According to an ongoing tally on GISAID's Web portal, the database will soon contain 30,000 influenza isolates.

The agreement to host the database on a German government site was signed in Bonn on Oct 14, about a week after GISAID held a database workshop for its international users in Saarbruecken, Germany. The agreement between Germany and GISAID acknowledges that the database contributes to the rapid development of flu vaccines for humans and animals and stipulates that a division of Germany's BMELV will become the permanent home of the database starting in 2011. The agreement also provides that GISAID will continue its work of developing and promoting the EpiFlu database.

Dr. Iqbal Survé, a physician from South Africa who is a member of GISAID's Board of Trustees, said in a statement released to CIDRAP News, "We are truly humbled by the support and commitment of the GISAID community during these recent weeks, and indeed grateful to have found a permanent home for our EpiFlu database with the government of the Federal Republic of Germany as its host."

At the GISAID workshop in Saarbruecken a new database technical committee was formed to provide a transparent and efficient way to route feedback from scientists who use the database to its developers. Though one of GISAID's hallmarks has been its user-friendly interface, the new committee will help in that it will ensure that all user feedback is considered, GISAID officials told CIDRAP News.

GISAID was formed in 2006 when international researchers sough a more open way to share H5N1 and other influenza virus gene sequences. Members of the science community have praised the database for what they say is a more complete collection of flu virus data; for example, those who upload sequences can include clinical data, which researchers say has been useful, especially during the H1N1 pandemic.

After the legal and contractual spat with its former database contractor, the Geneva-based Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, GISAID administrators developed a new version with the Max Planck Institute and A3 Systems in Germany.

See also:

Jul 27 CIDRAP News Scan "Legal conflict erupts over flu database"

Jun 25 CIDRAP News story "Pandemic reveals strengths of new flu database"

GISAID EpiFlu database platform

BMELV press announcement (in German)

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