July 06, 2021
Overcoming a challenge builds resiliency in all of us. The seismic shifts and disruptions from the current pandemic have reverberated around the globe. Very quickly, people had to collectively accept this new reality and adapt—we had to rethink plans and adjust, including the very nature of the way we work.
There is an old saying that could not be more true in these challenging times—start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. Like many organizations, Genome BC adapted business practices in compliance with public health orders. Working from home meant transforming living quarters into home offices, adjusting to diminished personal interactions with our colleagues, dealing with the uncertainty brought on by a rapidly evolving news cycle—all while feeling anxiety for loved ones near and far. And despite the uncertainty of not knowing how long we would have to live and work under these circumstances, our team collectively sought to find a structure and rhythm that would enable us to do our best work.
Many activities throughout this year provided opportunities for Genome BC to demonstrate the agile and creative elements of our work—harnessing the passion of our people, their skills, experience, knowledge, and insights—tapping into their resources and networks to identify and seize opportunities at the right time and in the right way. Ultimately, we were able to leverage the unique flexibility we have as an organization to take more risks than might be possible within other agencies.
During a pandemic, speed and agility to mobilize resources, including research, is essential for the public health response. In early February 2020, Genome BC funded an initiative led by British Columbia’s Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) Public Health Laboratory, to incorporate genomic analysis into tracking the virus, adding a critical new dimension to its outbreak response capabilities. This was followed by the launch of the Rapid Response Funding program, designed to support projects based on their ability to address the most pressing questions in the fight against COVID-19 and demonstrate impacts quickly.
As the Genome BC team worked to help mobilize resources in response to COVID-19, we also continued to manage our existing portfolio—coordinating with researchers to determine how the pandemic would impact research activities already underway. The public health orders impacted the ability of teams to continue their research, complete progress, and financial reports, or to publish research results as planned. Throughout the year, our team found themselves managing a record number of projects. We adapted by doing what was necessary; we moved on to what was possible and by the end of the year accomplished more than we could have imagined under the current circumstances.
This past year was a watershed moment for genomics—this transformational science clearly demonstrated its value. From the earliest days of the pandemic genomics was critical to the public health response. Whole genome sequencing from around the world contributed to the development of diagnostic tools, treatment and vaccines in record time. Genomics facilitated the tracking of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, its origins, and how it spread not only internationally, but throughout our communities. And genomics informed us on variants and how the virus evolves.
Epidemiology, mRNA, sequencing, mutations, and variants have become household terms—the public has learned the role genomics plays in public health and health care. And in the months and years to come, as the virus is likely to shift from pandemic to endemic, genomics will continue to aid in decision making and play a vital role in shaping public health policy.
This year has also demonstrated the importance of a thriving and innovative life sciences sector. The ecosystem responded quickly to mitigate public health risk, helping to inform policies that reduced case numbers in BC, worked diligently on therapeutics and treatment and often pivoted to address gaps in personal protective equipment (PPE) innovation and production.
Building a thriving life sciences sector has always been a pursuit of passion for Genome BC. Our success is based on addressing future pressing social and economic needs and challenges facing British Columbians. Our investments will continue to bridge academia, industry and government with knowledge discovery and applications that solve societal and economic challenges.
This reaches far beyond human health. Without safe and secure food and water sources people cannot thrive. Through the responsible application and uptake of genomics Genome BC will help translate research into innovative new tools to assist BC’s food producers and natural resource stewards to improve the health of our ecosystem and advance a sustainable and competitive resource-based economy. By focusing on food security, renewable resources and resilient ecosystems we will promote growth and productivity while prioritizing ecosystem health, and yielding creative solutions for an equitable, greener and more competitive resource-based economy in British Columbia.
This article appears in Genome BC’s 2020/21 Annual Report.
View the whole report here.