WASHINGTON – Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the bipartisan Tracking Pathogens Act to enhance the United States’ ability to prepare for future pandemics and strengthen our nation’s efforts to identify new viral threats through genetic surveillance and genomic sequencing. Through genomic sequencing, the United States has been able to identify, survey, and understand emerging variants of the novel coronavirus, as well as other pathogens. National sequence-based surveillance provides a picture of circulating pathogens, patterns in transmission and introduction, and context to better respond to and prepare for pandemics. This information will also provide data to assess vaccine effectiveness and, if necessary, inform new vaccine formulations.
“Plain and simple, we need to be better prepared for the next pandemic,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This bill increases our ability to identify, prevent, and respond to new variants and pathogens.”
“Unfortunately, it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ our nation will face another pandemic and we must be better prepared than we were for COVID-19 to track new threats and mitigate the virus,” said Senator Baldwin. “I am proud to introduce the bipartisan Tracking Pathogens Act to increase the United States’ preparedness for future pandemics by ensuring we can effectively identify new pathogens and act quickly to best respond to them to keep our communities safe.”
The Tracking Pathogens Act would enhance the United States’ ability to prepare for future pandemics and strengthen our ability to conduct genomic sequencing for pathogens by:
- Issuing Guidance: Issuing guidance to support collaborations for genomic sequencing, including the use of new and innovative approaches and technology for the detection, characterization, and sequencing of pathogens, to improve public health surveillance and preparedness and response activities
- Supporting and Enhancing Sequencing Activities: Directing government health agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), to expand and improve activities related to genomic sequencing by:
- Continuing and expanding activities to identify and respond to emerging infectious disease threats, including by identifying the use of advanced technology to inform surveillance activities
- Seeking new partnerships between public health laboratories and the larger health infrastructure to expand the reach of sequencing programs
- Providing technical assistance and guidance to State, Tribal, local and territorial public health departments to increase capacity for sequencing
- Enhancing the capabilities of the public health workforce focused on pathogen genomics, epidemiology, and bioinformatics
- Establishing Centers of Excellence: Awarding grants to public health agencies and partnerships to establish centers of excellence to promote innovation in pathogen genomics and molecular epidemiology. Established Centers would:
- Identify and evaluate technologies that may advance public health preparedness, and improve tools for integrating and analyzing genomic and epidemiologic data;
- Assist with genomic surveillance of, and response to, infectious diseases;
- Conduct applied research to improve public health surveillance and response to infectious diseases;
- Develop and provide training materials for experts in the fields of genomics, microbiology, bioinformatics, epidemiology, and other fields;
- Conduct workforce development through advanced training in academic labs
- Authorize sustained funding: Allot $175 million per year for FY23-27 for genetic surveillance and genomic sequencing.
A one-pager on the bill can be found here.