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Labor Spiez as Repository for the WHO BioHub Network

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of being able to exchange novel pathogens quickly and comprehensively. Such an exchange is crucial for the effective characterization and monitoring of the pathogens as well as for the timely development of medical countermeasures, in particular diagnostic tools, therapeutics, and vaccines.

24.05.2021 | Spiez Laboratory

Currently, a large part of this exchange takes place bilaterally between individual laboratories and on an ad-hoc basis. This process is too slow, leaves certain countries behind, and may not be sufficient to cover the global requirements arising in connection with acute disease outbreaks.Already one year ago the WHO, having called for a new era of international cooperation, emphasized that a return to the status quo is not an option in the face of the current pandemic. A new, global system for the exchange of pathogenic materials should not rest on bilateral agreements, nor must its establishment be allowed to be delayed by years of negotiations. Ideally, novel pathogens that pose a threat to public health should be rapidly shared through a global, trustworthy, and transparent system connecting laboratories on the basis of mutual partnership.

The purpose of this system is to accelerate the implementation of countermeasures and to promote the development of diagnostic tools, treatments, and vaccines – services that could be made available to all countries based on their public health requirements and the principles of equitable access.

Switzerland supports this WHO initiative to establish an international system for the voluntary exchange of novel pathogens. To this end, Federal Councillor Alain Berset and WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on 24 May 2021 signed a cooperation agreement within the framework of the WHO BioHub initiative. Under this agreement, Switzerland will make Labor Spiez available to the WHO as the repository for SARS-CoV-2 viruses or other pathogens with epidemic or pandemic potential.

Why Spiez?

Our infrastructure facilitates safe handling at all times of human pathogenic viruses in Risk Groups 3 and 4. We have the capability to carry out primary diagnostics for highly contagious and difficult-to-treat pathogens in these risk groups, including comprehensive differential diagnostics. We are also able to meet other requirements related to diagnostics, including the development of new testing methods for both known and unknown pathogens. Furthermore, we have the ability to analyse unknown suspicious samples (including sequencing) – if necessary, by calling on expertise from other disciplines, which Labor Spiez is uniquely positioned to provide.

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