FDA launches genome sequencing app competition

The US Food and Drug Administration has launched an ‘app-a-thon’ seeking digital next-generation sequencing solutions.

The new project is part of the FDA’s contribution to President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) – a nationwide research effort to revolutionise healthcare via genetic data analysis and personalised medicine.

The project aims to improve next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques – the core technology used to produce human genomic data – by calling on an online community of technology and healthcare companies.

This is part of a broader precisionFDA initiative, an open source cloud platform that allows scientists to share data, ideas and methodologies. The community has a total of 1,600 participants, including those from healthcare bodies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health and the American Heart Association, as well as pharma and biotech companies such as Roche and Human Longevity Inc.

The scheme’s “App-a-Thon” contest in this instance refers to executable commands for use with the Linux operating system. These apps can help with various aspects of NGS, including mapping portions of the genome and identifying genetic variants.

The competition intends to find apps that could help develop new genome sequencing analytical tools, contributing towards a complete apps reference library for precisionFDA researchers.

The FDA has provided a framework toolkit for developers to hold their own app-a-thons.

So far, two active app-a-thons are taking place at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Stanford University with three applications submitted by students of the latter.

The app-a-thon approach is another example of the FDA calling on the wider developer community to help further current healthcare research. Last month, the agency launched its 2016 Naloxone App Competition to help tackle the growing epidemic of opioid overdose in the US.

Developers now have until 28 October to submit their NGS apps. Winners will be presented by FDA Commissioner Robert Califf at the World Precision Medicine Congress on 14 November in Washington, DC.

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