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UCSF, Stanford, CZ Biohub Receive $13.6M to Study Bay Area COVID-19 Spread

NEW YORK – The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI announced Wednesday a $13.6 million grant to fund two studies that could help researchers and policy makers understand the spread of COVID-19 in the Bay Area. The studies will use PCR tests, serological assays, and next-generation sequencing to provide data on COVID-19.

The funds will go to the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, an interinstitutional research hub; the University of California, San Francisco; and Stanford University. The first study will sample a representative population of the area and test them monthly through the end of the year using both PCR and serological assays. Researchers will also sequence SARS-CoV-2 genomes from positive samples. The second will focus on healthcare workers and will evaluate whether COVID-19 antibodies protect individuals against reinfection. Subjects will be tested weekly using PCR and antibody tests to determine the rate at which healthcare workers acquire COVID-19 with or without symptoms.

In a statement, CZI said the data could be "crucial for informing policy decisions about how to safely reopen California's economy and how to make sure transmission remains low while we await a vaccine."

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood added, "Though we are still in the midst of responding to the first phases of this pandemic, we must also look to the future. By assembling reliable data on COVID-19 prevalence and exposure in our region, we can help protect our Bay Area healthcare workforce and better determine when and how we can safely begin to reopen our state’s economy."

The two studies build on work started in March, when the CZI, CZ Biohub, and the two universities formed a task force to increase coronavirus testing in the Bay Area and invest in testing platforms from GenMark Diagnostics.

Previously, investigators at the CZ Biohub and UCSF developed an NGS-based strategy for metagenomic sequencing for lower respiratory tract infections.

In the population study, led by Stanford pediatric infectious disease researcher Yvonne Maldonado and UCSF epidemiologist George Rutherford, researchers will recruit approximately 4,000 people who have previously tested negative for COVID-19. They will test the study cohort once per month to determine the rate of new infections. Viral genome sequencing will also look at whether co-infections with other pathogens play a significant role in the disease.

The study of healthcare professionals will recruit about 3,500 workers who previously tested negative for COVID-19 and retest them weekly for at least 12 weeks with both PCR and serological tests, to determine the rate at which they acquire the disease. Subjects found to be seropositive on recruitment will be followed in parallel through December 2020 to collect data on immunity and likelihood of reinfection.

The studies "will build a foundation for science-based policies that can guide California and the nation in the challenging months ahead," Hawgood said.

"One of the critical steps for California to begin gradually reopening our economy is wrapping our arms around community surveillance, so that we continue to be guided by science," Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said in a statement. "We are grateful to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, UCSF, and Stanford University for adding to this critical body of data."