Launching the Human Immunome Project

Key Takeaways from the Human Immunome Project Into Action Conference

Just over a year ago, the Human Immunome Project (HIP) was initiated at a summit in La Jolla, California, drawing immunology leaders together to discuss the greatest challenge in the healthcare field. Since then we have introduced new leadership and new Board members, and launched our inaugural scientific plan to build the largest immunology dataset in history and transform our understanding of the human immune system to improve health worldwide.

Last month, the organization released the fully-articulated scientific research plan to more than 40 representatives from academia, industry, civil society, and intergovernmental organizations who gathered in Barcelona, Spain, for the Human Immunome Project Into Action Conference, co-hosted by HIP and the CaixaResearch Institute. We invited participants to challenge the strategy and offer input to strengthen our approach. One of the main goals was to reach consensus on HIP’s scientific strategy, and by all accounts this goal was achieved.

Over three days of meetings and events, HIP’s CEO, its scientific leaders, and the Chair of its Board of Directors detailed HIP’s ambitious vision and presented a detailed plan for how it can be realized, including its scientific strategy and its management and governance structures. These plans received widespread support from the experts who convened in Barcelona. Now, based on their input, our team is refining and finalizing the scientific plan, with implementation of this vital effort slated to begin in 2024.

Here are the key areas of consensus agreed upon at the Into Action Conference:

HIP will initiate a two-phase approach to data collection and analysis.

There was broad consensus on the goals outlined in our two-phase, 10-year scientific strategy to collect an unprecedented quantity of immune data from every human population. The first phase will see data collected from 7-10 pioneering sites, where standard operating procedures and quality control will be refined in the field. In the second phase, data will be collected from more than 100 locations worldwide. An AI engine will be built simultaneously to analyze this data so it can be used by HIP and our partners to accelerate and hone drug, diagnostic, and vaccine discovery, and provide better health outcomes for all.

Diversity and equity are critical to achieving HIP’s mission.

To date, many genomic studies have been limited to and benefited only a small subset of the global population. For example, more than 90% of the analyses of genome-wide association studies have been performed in people of European ancestry. In drafting the inaugural scientific plan, our leadership prioritized the collection of immune samples that will reflect humanity’s diversity. The goal is to end up with an immune dataset that represents as diverse a range of people as possible (based on sex, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, and baseline health status). This focus was reiterated at the Into Action Conference, where a recurrent theme was: “Our predictions are only as good as our data.”

Our focus on diversity extends well beyond the samples collected. As emphasized in Barcelona, HIP will work to ensure diversity among the individuals and groups that partner with and work inside and alongside the organization. Critically, we are also committed to ensuring equitable outcomes from this work so that health outcomes are improved for all people.

Think big, start small.

The global health experts who gathered in Barcelona confirmed that HIP should rely on collecting our own data rather than trying to repurpose and expand upon the limited and disparate immunological datasets already available, and fully endorsed HIP’s two-phase model of data collection. HIP plans to launch the first phase of data collection in 2024 at a small number of pioneering sites. These sites will be established at state-of-the-art facilities that already have the staff, equipment, and expertise to conduct this type of sample collection (including mucosal sampling) and analyze numerous immune parameters.

Standardized process to collect immune data will enable scale.

Using the data from a small number of pioneering sites, HIP will oversee development of an Immune Monitoring Kit (IMK) that can be deployed at the more than 100 phase two sites to collect globally diverse data from thousands of patients. There was robust discussion at the conference on how these kits will be assembled and implemented, with widespread support for HIP’s approach. While it is essential to capture diversity in the samples collected, standardization is the goal when it comes to the deployment of the IMK. Given this, the scientific plan will address potential measurement errors/differences across sites and will attempt to standardize the data collection process as much as possible at this scale. The IMK will effectively level the global research field, allowing labs in lower and middle income countries to generate equally valuable data to that generated by labs in high-income nations.

Participants underscored the need to incorporate training, quality control, and career development support at all sites.

AI will be critical to data analysis.

This meeting was largely focused on the first phase of HIP’s scientific strategy—data collection—but participants supported the plan to train and build an AI model using existing immunology data concurrently with data collection so that it can be tested and refined by all stakeholders.

Experts also initiated discussions on data sharing models and discussed different approaches to mining the immune data to implement equitable health outcomes.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Make it better.

As HIP and our partners begin data collection, we will benefit greatly from partnerships with organizations, networks, and communities that have already done groundbreaking work of this type. This relates to those with experience in setting up training programs, initiating clinical sites, forming institutional review boards, developing informed consent processes, establishing data sharing mechanisms, and working with the governments and civil society groups that will make these studies possible. A thorough survey of what global networks exist and how we can partner, work with them, and benefit from their expertise will be a critical next step in implementing the scientific strategy.

Partner and communicate with diverse stakeholders.

As the scientific plan is finalized, HIP is looking to expand its Board of Directors and to appoint creative and inspired individuals to its newly formed governing committees for finance; inclusion operations; science/AI; data and analysis; and impact.

We will also be expanding our communications efforts to engage with a diverse range of stakeholders worldwide. Participants recognized that a global network of committed partners will be critical to success of this initiative, and that network will require outreach to academia, civil society, governments, industry, intergovernmental organizations, and patient groups.

Stay tuned for more about this process, including the unveiling of the final scientific strategic plan and information about how to support HIP in this unprecedented mission.

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