Together, Genome Canada and Génome Québec will allocate CA$34.5 million (US$31.9 million) to the Montréal-based Public Population Project in Genomics. P3G is a four-year-old international consortium, founded by University of Montréal professor Bartha Knoppers, focusing on standardizing data collection and data storage methods used in population studies to foster international collaborations. This group includes Québec’s CartaGene program, which is ramping up efforts to build both a databank and a biobank to catalogue the health and demographics of Québec residents, as well as other population-wide genomic studies.
“Countries are investing in these prospective, national, large-population genomic studies … and I thought it would be a good idea to perhaps think about harmonizing, at least to some extent, the data that every scientifically-correct populations genomic database would need to have,” says Knoppers, who also oversees CartaGene.
P3G began in 2003 with the alliance of CartaGene, the Estonian Genome Project, the UK Biobank, and the GenomEUtwin Project. Once partnered, they built a framework to increase these studies’ ability to compare, validate, replicate, and share data. Each group has access to commonly needed population study tools, such as questionnaires or measurement standards. “The idea [was] that these would not be done in isolation, but more with the possibility of international collaboration, sharing both problems but also building solutions together,” Knoppers says.
That idea caught on. Currently, P3G has 25 member countries, including China, Japan, the UK, and the USA; more biobanks have submitted applications. P3G’s largest funding sources are Genome Canada and Génome Québec, which contributed equally to the $34.5 million going to P3G, but the group also receives financial support from its international partners, bringing its budget to $64.5 million.
Like the UK’s Biobank, CartaGene, a charter member of P3G, is recruiting people between the ages of 40 and 69 to contribute to a biobank and a databank. For phase A, which is scheduled to last about three years, a random sample of 20,000 Québec residents selected from the province’s healthy registry will be asked to answer a questionnaire and to provide blood and urine samples, as well as physical measurements, such as blood pressure and height. “It’s more a study of creating a database, a resource infrastructure, on genomic variation across the population,” Knoppers says. For the second phase of the study, CartaGene will look at 30,000 people and may focus on a different group, possibly lowering the age to 25. CartaGene has CA$27 million in funding for the next three years.