26 January 2022
Jack Maclean By Jack Maclean

What COVID-19 Taught Us About the Importance of Bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics established its worth right from the start of the pandemic and has continued to do so, solving complex real-life scientific problems quickly.

The technical data has been used to support scientists, researchers, public health officials and health care professionals throughout the world. This has helped us understand transmission routes, comorbidities, and mutation rates. It has also served as a foundation for vaccine development & therapies and ultimately helped predict and prevent future outbreaks.

Using bioinformatics to sequence the COVID-19 pathogen.

Illumina

Unsurprisingly Illumina, a world leader in the life science sector, was at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19; their sequencing solutions helped empower the front-line heroes to address the pandemic.

Scientists used Illumina’s sequencing technology to identify the first individuals infected by the virus. This work incorporated the company’s next-generation sequencing (NGS) and bioinformatics pipelines to sequence the genome of the new pathogen using samples collected from patients. Although biologists performed this operation, the algorithm wouldn’t have been able to produce the complete sequence without the use of bioinformatics.

The technologies are still currently being used to track the spread, evolution and patterns of COVID-19 variations globally. Illumina’s solutions have empowered thousands of scientists and researchers globally; currently, 10,000 labs in 115 countries use the sequencing solutions.

Using Data to Track the Pandemic and Forecast Hotspots.

Johnson & Johnson

Forecasting COVID-19 hotspots became critical knowledge for everyone involved in the fight back against the pandemic. Government officials and public health practitioners used the data to make decisions that affected the lives and safety of many.

To help paint a real-time picture of the movement of COVID-19 around the world. Janssen (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) built a global surveillance dashboard that pulls real-time data at a county, state and even country level. The accuracy of the worldwide surveillance dashboard relies on predictive data science models meaning the model is only as good as the information you feed into it, making bioinformatics a critical component.

Janssen partnered with Dr Dmitri Bertsimas and his colleagues to further track the future spread of the virus. The approach combines epidemiological infectious disease models - known as SEIR – with machine learning to predict future hotspots of the virus.

These predictive models integrate with the surveillance dashboard to provided holistic guidance to clinical teams when recruiting participants for “event-based” vaccine trials. The “event-based” trials tie to the number of “events”, such as participants becoming sick with COVID-19.

Scientists looked at COVID-19 hot spots when picking clinical trial locations as it’s the collection of events that enables researchers to tell if the vaccine is working efficiently and the trial will be completed quicker if the location infection spread is higher.

How can bioinformatics cloud-based solutions speed up vaccine trials?

After identifying COVID-19, it took scientists just six months to push vaccine candidates into clinical trials. To put this into perspective, the Ebola vaccine took five years to make it through to clinical trials. At the time this was record-breaking, however, a few years on we’ve seen the COVID-19 vaccine take less than half of that time to reach preclinical development. So, what’s changed since the roll-out of the Ebola vaccine?

Computational and informatics approaches- sophisticated mathematical models that can predict which parts of a novel pathogen will be recognized by B cells and T cells – combined with the use of cloud-based technology has allowed scientists to collaborate instantly and globally to accelerate scientific discoveries.

Scientists spent years working on these models meaning they were poised to respond immediately. Within a few hours, several companies had developed potential vaccine targets. I’m really excited about the potential impact cloud base solutions could have on scientific development.

One company I’m particularly interested in is DNA Nexus. The cloud-based data analysis and management platform have quickly developed into the most secure and trusted global network for scientific collaboration. The system provides bioinformaticians with huge datasets to break down and analyse allowing the company to partner with scientists and researchers tackling the most exciting opportunities in human health and beyond.

What’s next?

As technology develops and improves, so will bioinformatics processes and abilities. As a result, it will become much more powerful in the future and crucial in scientific decision making.

Bioinformatics is fighting on many fronts within the life science space thanks to SOPHiA Genomics, Seven Bridges, Twist Bioscience, Excelra and many more!

What does your company think about the future of Bioinformatics as a result of COVID? I’d love to hear what you think! Drop me a message to discuss any of the themes in this article, or trends in the wider Bioinformatics space, at Jack.Maclean@lifesci-cm.com.

To find more of my insight into the Bioinformatics market, click here.

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Charlton Morris is a Talent Solutions business who offer search, contract, volume and employer branding solutions to the life science markets.

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Jack Maclean

Jack Maclean is a specialist in the Bioinformatics space, working with a range of exciting Biotech companies who focus on bioinformatics and data science. Specialising in hires ranging from mid-management to C-Level appointments, Jack boasts an international network dedicated completely to this space.

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