TSMC grant could boost TGen's efforts to track SARS-CoV-2 variants

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, today announced a substantial grant from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC), one of the world's largest manufacturers of computer chips, to help TGen sustain Arizona's fight against COVID-19.

The TSMC grant will boost TGen efforts to track variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 infection. TGen's program is designed to gain intelligence about the current pandemic, as well as prepare for a next potential regional or global disease outbreak.

The funds will greatly advance TGen's genomic sequencing of this virus, which enables the identification of specific variants. TGen is under contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and the CDC to sequence positive Arizona samples of the virus, monitoring for the emergence of mutations and variants that could make the virus either more transmissible or evade current vaccine formulations. Currently, approved vaccines are effective against all COVID-19 variants.

So far, TGen's Arizona COVID-19 Sequencing Dashboard includes more than 21,000 sequenced genomes of Arizona COVID-19 positive samples, one of the nation's most robust such efforts. The dashboard lists all the mutations and variants of concern that have circulated in Arizona.

Arizona is the home state for one of our most advanced semiconductor fabs -- as well as the home for many TSMC employees. Our company highly values both service and philanthropy. We want to be a meaningful contributor to the Arizona community. This grant honors not only the important science happening at TGen, but it's also a way to support their efforts to fight the virus and share meaningful research to a global community."

Rick Cassidy, CEO of TSMC Arizona

TSMC, which is building what will be the United States' most advanced chip manufacturing plant in north Phoenix, did not disclose the amount of the grant. The company has already hired hundreds of new employees for the Phoenix site who have begun their early training. The plant is expected to begin chip production in 2024.

Tim McDaniel, Ph.D., TGen Senior Vice President of Emerging Opportunities, said the TSMC grant represents a substantial investment in the local community, and is an example of the kind of community involvement that helps local entities like TGen to thrive.

"We are honored and grateful to receive support from TSMC, and we will put this gift to good use immediately, benefiting all Arizonans," Dr. McDaniel said.

David Engelthaler, Ph.D., director of TGen's infectious-disease division, said the TSMC grant represents much-needed support that will enable TGen to improve biomedical technology, and specifically TGen's surveillance of the COVID-19 virus at a critical time in its evolution.

"While the numbers of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths plumet as more Arizonans are vaccinated, we cannot let down our guard as we continue to monitor the changing nature of this coronavirus, but also prepare for whatever the microbial world throws our way in the future," said Dr. Engelthaler.

The TSMC grant will rapidly push TGen toward its goal of providing a genomic sequence for every new COVID-19 infection in Arizona. By providing a detailed molecular fingerprint of the virus, TGen can track the specific virus variants involved in each specific case, identify those infections responsible for multi-person outbreaks, and identify mutations that may be associated with vaccine breakthrough events. New mutations and strains identified in Arizona can also be compared with new strains appearing around the globe.

"Though our focus is largely regional, the virus is clearly not contained by borders or oceans, so we need to share intel on this pathogen as widely as possible," Dr. Engelthaler said. "TGen releases its SARS-CoV-2 variant data on the web in real time so that our information is part of a global network that helps public health officials track when and where new variants arise, and how they move across the world."

TGen will publicly release laboratory procedures developed with the TSCM funds so they can be replicated anywhere in the world, further increasing the global impact of this grant.

"Our long term goal is to 'democratize' sequencing, to decrease the costs and time and make the data accessible and actionable -- in essence to make our society more pandemic-ready by providing rapid 'pathogen intelligence' to clinicians and public health officials," Dr. Engelthaler said. "TSMC's support will help us build a 21st Century genomic infectious disease surveillance system in Arizona and beyond."

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