Scientists collaborate on COVID data portal to speed up vaccine development

More than 73,000 scientists have collaborated on a new online platform set up by the European Open Science Cloud Initiative, where scientists share COVID-19 data to help develop treatments and vaccines quicker.

A new website, which allows researchers to share difficult-to-find SARS-CoV-2 data from clinical trials, research centres, hospitals and national healthcare systems, has seen thousands of users collaborating to help beat the Coronavirus.

The European COVID-19 Data Platform - part of the European Open Science Cloud initiative (EOSC) - has so far seen more than 2.6 million requests since its launch on 20 April.

The portal has a wide spread of nations, including the UK (12 per cent), the US (nine per cent), Spain (eight per cent), Italy (eight per cent) and Germany (seven per cent).

Set up by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the European research infrastructure ELIXIR, the platform is supporting life science laboratories across Europe to share and store their research data.

Niklas Blomberg, project coordinator of EOSC-Life, said: “We are really impressed with the rapid uptake of the portal - already we are seeing the platform play a key role in allowing scientists to understand fundamental questions about the virus.

"Researchers are sharing knowledge on how the virus mutates when spreading, the basic biology of the virus, how it infects, whether there are any drug targets or intervention points where known drugs can be repurposed, and the human response, for example, the genetic risk factors for the severity of the disease."

He explained that the portal gives federated access to data that cannot be openly shared - for example, human genomes and disease data, data from clinical trials, access to biobank samples from European biobanks.

"The work provides a blueprint for long-term solutions and potentially helps to prepare us for future outbreaks," Blomberg added.

“The data gathered will result in rich datasets, for example, genetics, proteomics and serology, collected from a large number of COVID-19 patients and these data need to be stored and shared in a secure and GDPR- compliant manner."

EMBL head of IT and EOSC executive board member Rupert Lueck said: "The collective global scientific effort to study the disease, find vaccines and develop cures has been stunning, but would arguably not have been the same behind paywalls.

"The portal has allowed scientists to progress at a phenomenal rate unencumbered by red tape - keeping the focus on science, shortening timelines and showing the importance of open data in well-kept repositories," he continued, concluding: "It proves that accessible and well-curated data can produce rapid responses and high-quality, reproducible science."

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