RWANDA—Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) has signed an agreement with U.S.—based biotechnology firm, Ginkgo Bioworks, to work together on a year-long partnership to monitor and identify new and emerging variants of SARS-COV2 at the Kigali International Airport.

The partnership is specifically with Gingko Bioworks’ biosecurity and public health unit known as Concentric’s by Gingko,

The partners will monitor wastewater samples from arriving aircraft as well as nasal swabs samples from voluntary and anonymous international travelers.

More specifically the RBC will contribute to the on-the-ground operations such as sample collection, testing, and sequencing while Gingko will support the end-to-end collection and analysis workflow, training, and logistical support.

The program will inform insightful public health decisions and mitigation strategies in Rwanda and globally.

The partnership also aims to act as a new node in a global network for early warning of new and emerging variants that will be essential to support timely and targeted responses.

The partnership will also see the development of pathogen monitoring infrastructure, using insights generated by Concentrics’s existing travel biosecurity programs to establish Kigali as a new hub for biosecurity in the region.

The insights collected will be uploaded onto Concentrics’s platform where there is data reporting, bioinformatics, and decision support services.

This is all part of a larger effort by the Rwanda government through RBC to focus efforts and resources on biosecurity after the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Mitigating the risk of biological threats, including emerging viral variants, remains a global imperative that necessitates a robust early warning system.

The intention of the pathogen monitoring program at Kigali International Airport is to act as a public health radar, providing leaders with near-real-time data to inform targeted response strategies.

In this way, the Rwanda Biomedical Centre will be able to stay ahead of the next variant or pathogen of concern through this intentional and strategic approach to biosecurity.

Prof Claude Muvunyi, the Director General of the Rwanda Biomedical Centre affirmed, “As we continue to feel the impacts of emerging variants and pathogens, we recognize the need to create a sustainable public health and biosecurity infrastructure.”

The RBC was established in 2011 as a merger of 14 health units, to coordinate their efforts of improving the health of the Rwanda population through the provision of high-quality, affordable, and sustainable healthcare services.

They achieve this through the implementation of preventative, rehabilitative, and curative health interventions.

RBC also conducts scientific research, provides diagnostics services, and implements innovative health interventions to protect the nation against diseases and other health threats.

The Rwanda Biomedical Centre is also exploring areas of cooperation with the International Vaccines Institute, especially in the areas of biomanufacturing.

“Mitigating the risk of biological threats, including emerging viral variants, remains a global imperative that necessitates a robust early warning system,” stated Matt McKnight, General Manager, Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks.

In April 2019, Africa CDC launched an initiative to strengthen the biosecurity and biosafety systems of African Union Member States.

The initiative will help protect Africans against the deliberate or accidental release of bacteria, viruses, or other harmful biological agents.

The biosecurity and biosafety systems program is supported by Global Affairs Canada’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program, Open Philanthropy Project, U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Défense Threat Reduction Agency.

Ginkgo, also the leading horizontal platform for cell programming, plans to support Rwanda’s public health institutions as the country works to address biosecurity challenges internally and in the region.

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