On March 9, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard core member Deborah Hung spoke urgently with her colleague at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Michael Mina, the associate medical director of the clinical microbiology laboratory and director of molecular virology diagnostics at the hospital.
Hung, co-director of the Broad Institute’s Infectious Diseases and Microbiome Program, is on the medical front lines of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as an attending infectious disease and critical care physician at BWH. That day, the number of presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state had risen to 41 and, by the next morning, would more than double to 92, prompting Gov. Charlie Baker to declare a state of emergency. The following day, the World Health Organization would declare the coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic.
As the number of positive cases in the state grew, Hung and other physicians grew increasingly frustrated with the limited access to testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. In their conversation, Mina, an associate member of the Broad and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, stressed to Hung the desperate need to increase the capacity for diagnostic testing for COVID-19.
Hung and Mina immediately imagined how the Broad’s Genomics Platform could help. In 2013, the platform had launched an effort to provide high-quality, validated clinical sequencing for use in medical care and clinical research, as a complement to the platform’s large-scale research sequencing capabilities. A subsidiary of the Broad Institute, the Clinical Research Sequencing Platform, LLC, (CRSP) is CLIA-certified and accredited by the College of American Pathologists, so it can return data to physicians for use in diagnostics, patient care, and clinical trials. Anticipating the growing clinical need for rapid data generation, CRSP had designed its facility to be highly automated.