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Biogen Partners with Broad Institute to Build COVID-19 Biobank

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The Kendall Square-based biotechnology firm Biogen announced on April 16 it will partner with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and Boston-area hospitals to build a COVID-19 biobank — a repository that will store biological samples to be used for research purposes.

The announcement comes roughly a month after Biogen held a leadership conference in early March that has been linked to 99 cases of the virus in the Commonwealth.

Biogen will collect anonymized blood samples from Biogen employees who have recovered from COVID-19 and volunteer to participate in the study. They will also attempt to collect samples from close contacts of those employees, whether or not they tested positive or displayed symptoms of the virus.

The samples will provide medical data for researchers to use as they investigate the biology of the pathogen and attempt to find a vaccine, per Biogen’s press release announcing the establishment of the biobank.

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Partners Healthcare, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will help the Broad Institute and Biogen collect data from the blood samples.

The combined opportunity to work with patients who have contracted COVID-19 and with the expansive research network will allow for multifaceted research into the disease, according to Deborah T. Hung ’88, the co-director of the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program at the Broad Institute.

“The ability to collaborate directly with a cohort of local patients who were among the first in Massachusetts to contract COVID-19, and partner with leading health care and biomedical and research institutions across Kendall Square and the Boston area, allows us to launch many critical research approaches at once,” Hung wrote in the press release.

The Broad Institute will aggregate and anonymize the data from Biogen affiliates and their close contacts to study the range of symptoms that people with the virus display, as well as their antibody levels.

Hung wrote the biobank will help researchers understand the mechanism by which the virus spreads through large populations and how patients generate antibodies after contracting the pathogen.

“We’ll gain insights into the biology of how the disease moved through a relatively small group of the larger population, early in the local life-cycle in Massachusetts,” Hung wrote. “Just as important, we’ll be able to evaluate the levels of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.”

Hospitals in the Boston area have already begun clinical trials to help treat coronavirus patients. Ravi Thadhani, Chief Academic Officer at Partners HeathCare, wrote in press release that the biobank will improve research and represents a “significant advancement” for the scientific community.

Biogen Chief Medical Officer Maha Radhakrishnan wrote that because of the number of Biogen affiliates who have contracted the virus, the company can provide important data to the repository.

“We are uniquely positioned to contribute to advancing COVID-19 science in an organized and deliberate way so we can all gain a better understanding of this virus,” Radhakrishnan wrote. “Many Biogen colleagues have been eager to find ways to help others during this pandemic, and it is our hope that this biobank will provide hope and essential information during this difficult time.”

—Staff writer Charles Xu can be reached at charles.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @charles_xu_27.

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