GISAID Scientific Advisory Council (SAC)

Terms of Reference

The GISAID Initiative (“GISAID”), is a global data science initiative involving public-private or other partnerships with public-health and academic institutions, or other interested parties around the world. In lieu of being a centrally managed organization, it is a horizontal and collaborative global platform of researchers and research institutions. It receives administrative support from Freunde von GISAID e.V. (a non-profit association), which is itself a part of this broader GISAID network, where its role is limited to coordination and related functions, primarily in connection with the establishment of contractual partnerships. GISAID also receives donations from individuals and institutions, but these donating individuals and institutions do not form part of the Initiative.

GISAID was launched in 2008 following an 18-month consultation with WHO Member States and other stakeholders to respond to an increased reluctance of countries and scientists to share influenza data during outbreaks, by providing an alternative to anonymous data sharing via public-domain archives.

Since then, GISAID supports the sharing of other non-influenza, high-impact pathogens, as an essential pillar in global health security for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response, by:

A. providing a well-established and transparent sharing mechanism for the timely exchange of genomic sequence data, and associated epidemiological and clinical information on pathogens, by recognizing the rights of data contributors and the need for public health policy decision making and the research & development of interventions;

B. operating a publicly accessible data platform for the collection, aggregation, analyses and rapid sharing of data on pathogens with pandemic potential, to support local contact tracing and genomic surveillance, and the research and development of diagnostic tools, vaccines and antiviral drugs as well as other innovations and appropriate measures for controlling the spread and impact of pathogens; and

C. to conduct educational programs including training workshops and seminars to build knowledge capacity across the globe to improve the rapid analysis of novel outbreak data and foster collaboration among researchers of both human and animal health.

GISAID’s Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) is tasked to advise and support the Initiative in pursuit of its public health and scientific objectives.

1. Tasks of the SAC

The SAC shall perform the following tasks:

a. Provide scientific advice to GISAID, through objective, evidence-based guidance relating to the furthering of GISAID’s mission;

b. Provide timely orientation to GISAID about genomic surveillance and evolutionary genomics;

c. Upon request, contribute to preparation of public statements in their capacity of SAC member, or otherwise make themselves available to contribute to public understanding about the discovery of a previously unknown pathogen, or an emerging variant thereof, at the onset or during outbreaks, and on GISAID’s role in the response thereto;

d. Advise and assist GISAID’s educational faculty on workshops and other educational programs that advance community knowledge and skills, including personal participation where applicable; and

e. Undertake other duties and functions consistent with these Terms of Reference as may be requested.

2. Composition of the SAC

The SAC shall be comprised of no more than 15 members who will serve in their personal capacities.

Diversity and gender distribution: Consideration will be given to ensuring appropriate gender balance and to reflect the geographical, ethnic and cultural diversity of the scientific community.

Members will be scientists or health experts who are leaders in one or more of the following disciplines: virology, microbiology, computational and molecular biology, epidemiology, evolutionary genomics and bioinformatics, and public health or animal-health.

The SAC shall provide upon invitation observer seats for technical officers from the quadripartite of international agencies health organizations, i.e., the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Members shall commit to participating in meetings regularly and to contributing actively to the work of the SAC.

3. Selection of Members

3.1 Nomination:
Members shall be appointed by the GISAID Nomination Committee (“Nomination Committee”).

3.2 Nomination Committee:
The Nomination Committee shall be composed of three individuals of esteem in the scientific community who have been confirmed by the GISAID Secretariat. A Nomination Committee member may not concurrently serve as a SAC Member.

The Responsible Officer (Section 8) will issue a call for applications/nominations for the SAC to fill any vacancy. The Nomination Committee will review the nominations. Recommendations of the Nomination Committee will be reviewed by the GISAID Secretariat for any conflict of interest, who will notate its findings and forward them to the Nomination Committee for final decision.

3.3 Potential conflict of interest:
GISAID work requires the assistance of external experts who may have interests related to their expertise. All experts serving on the SAC must disclose any circumstances that could represent a potential conflict of interest. The presence of a potential conflict does not automatically disqualify a prospective SAC member or limit his or her participation in GISAID’s activities. Before being appointed as SAC Members and prior to renewal of term, nominees and current SAC Members shall complete a Disclosure of Interests.

3.4 Confidentiality undertaking:
Prior to confirmation of their appointment as SAC Members, SAC nominees shall be required to sign a Confidentiality Undertaking. All information presented to the SAC, including pre-publication copies of research reports or documents of commercial significance, shall be treated as confidential. SAC deliberations are confidential and may not be publicly disclosed by SAC Members except for the dissemination of reports as otherwise described herein. Prior to SAC meetings, SAC Members shall be required to sign a Confidentiality Undertaking and to refresh their Disclosure of Interests.

4. Duration & Rotation of Membership

Duration of membership is three years, with the possibility to serve for no more than two consecutive terms.

5. Recall/Resignation of Membership

SAC Members may be recalled from the SAC for any of the following reasons:

a. Absence from two consecutive SAC meetings without extenuating circumstances;

b. Change in circumstance resulting in a conflict of interest; or

c. A lack of professionalism involving, for example, a breach of confidentiality.

SAC Members wishing to resign for personal or professional reasons shall provide the GISAID Secretariat with a written notice.

6. Vice-Chairs

The SAC shall be chaired by two Vice-Chairs who shall be confirmed by the GISAID Secretariat after consultation with, and confirmation by, SAC Members and the Responsible Officer.

7. Duration and Rotation of Vice-Chairs

Duration/rotation of SAC Vice-Chairmanship: three years with the possibility of a single extension.

8. Responsible Officer

The GISAID Secretariat shall appoint an observer who shall be permitted to attend all SAC meetings as Responsible Officer.

9. Meetings and Operational Procedures

9.1 Meeting frequency:
The Vice-Chairs will produce a working plan at the beginning of each year and propose dates for future meetings, which shall be no less than twice annually. Meetings can be held in person or by videoconference. Members should receive the invitation and any associated meeting materials at least two weeks before each meeting.

9.2 Meetings and reports:
Minutes of SAC meetings will be taken by the Responsible Officer and vetted by the Vice-Chairs before distribution to the SAC Members. To encourage openness of discussion, and encourage the broadest possible participation among SAC members, meeting and reports therefrom shall be held under the Chatham House Rule.

9.3 Recommendations:
The SAC may draft recommendations on scientific matters that fall within the scope of the Tasks described above. Recommendations shall be made on a consensus basis.

10. Emergency/Special Circumstances

SAC Members acknowledge that the nature of global public health work that underpins the Initiative’s mission means that they may be called on to fulfill their Tasks (as described herein) during emergencies (whether or not so-declared by a government or multi-lateral organization) or other special circumstances. As such, SAC Members further acknowledge they will use best efforts to fulfill the above-mentioned Tasks during these periods.

11. Additional Experts

The Vice-Chairs may upon agreement with each other, invite additional scientific experts to meetings to further contribute to specific agenda items.

12. Remuneration

SAC Members will not be remunerated for their participation in the SAC; however, reasonable pre-approved expenses such as for travel incurred by attendance at SAC or related meetings, are eligible for reimbursement by GISAID in its sole discretion.