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Wellcome Sanger, Stellenbosch University Collaborate for Global Infectious Disease Surveillance

NEW YORK – The Genomic Surveillance Unit of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation at Stellenbosch University announced a new genomic infectious disease surveillance partnership on Thursday.

Based in the UK and South Africa, the groups will now share resources, coordinate strategies, and support their partners in surveillance, enabling increased genomics-based surveillance of diseases.

The collaboration builds upon strategies that were forged during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as well as longer-term global surveillance efforts for malaria and HIV, the partners said in a statement.

The initial stages of the partnership will focus on the highest-risk pathogens and threats likely to increase with climate change and other human factors. These include insect-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever; water-borne diseases like cholera; and respiratory viruses such as influenza and coronaviruses. It will focus on any new "disease X" with pandemic potential.

Tulio de Oliveira, founder and head of CERI, will also join the GSU in the role of deputy director as part of the new partnership, which the partners noted aligns with the mission of the World Health Organization's International Pathogen Surveillance Network, the partners said.

Prior to founding CERI, de Oliveira led the team that confirmed the discovery of the Beta and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2. And prior to forming the GSU, the Wellcome Sanger Institute was sequencing up to 64,000 COVID-19 samples per week at peak capacity in 2021, which the partners noted was more than any other laboratory in the world.

"Between our two teams, we can share complementary facilities and work together on many diseases: from those carried by mosquitoes or floodwaters, to respiratory viruses with pandemic potential," de Oliveira said in a statement.

John Sillitoe, director of the Genomic Surveillance Unit at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said in a statement that genomic surveillance is critical to making informed decisions on public health. "This new partnership will combine resources and expertise in both organizations to support the control of infectious diseases globally.”

CERI and the GSU work with genomics partners worldwide, including scientists in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Gambia, Brazil, and South and Southeast Asia, and with the WHO at the international level.

The GSU receives funding from the UK Health Security Agency, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institute for Health and Care Research, while CERI is funded by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, the Department of Science and Innovation in South Africa, the European Commission (EC), Illumina, the US National Institutes of Health, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, the Rockefeller Foundation, the South African Medical Research Council, Stellenbosch University, Wellcome, World Bank, and the WHO.