Infectious Disease Initiative

Over the past several decades, infectious disease outbreaks worldwide have revealed significant weakness in how the world fights the spread of devastating diseases.

Fighting Infectious Diseases

These battles must be won, and here at CZ Biohub, we are fighting back.

Diseases like SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), HIV/AIDS and dengue have proven to be worthy adversaries. Drug-resistant strains of bacteria and dangerous diseases such as tuberculosis are steadily eroding existing treatments. More recently, outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya and yellow fever have caught the world by surprise.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the CZ Biohub was ready to respond quickly and decisively. Together with our partners, we helped increase testing capacity in the Bay Area and provided free testing for Departments of Health across California.

Our IDseq technology, created with Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, has been used to equip scientists both here and throughout the world with the ability to process and understand metagenomic data derived from sequencing positive test results. Through a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IDseq was used to identify and confirm Cambodia’s first COVID-19 case and provided scientists with critical data about what was happening on the ground in the early days of the pandemic. And in the Bay Area, IDSeq is being used to provide critical insights about COVID-19 spread, including rate of spread and co-infection rates of positive Bay Area coronavirus cases.

Bottom line: Our scientists and engineers will apply the most advanced technologies available today—and work to invent new tools as well—to support the global fight against infectious diseases. The work is clustered around four key areas: diagnostic tests, new drugs, vaccines and rapid response.

Diagnostic Tests

We will use new advances in genome sequencing technology to develop a universal diagnostic test that could reveal any infectious disease with near certainty. The work will be based on a prototype developed in 2014 that successfully diagnosed a rare form of bacterial encephalitis in a 14-year old boy using sequencing technology to quickly distinguish human DNA from disease DNA.

New Drugs

When an infectious agent invades a human cell, it frequently hijacks specific proteins within that cell and uses them to replicate and cause disease. Scientists will take advantage of new capabilities being developed here to identify the hijacked proteins. We will then use cutting-edge gene editing tools to test whether shutting down the expression of these proteins can block the disease, which could spark the development of new treatments. We’re also seeking new ways to develop drugs called monoclonal antibodies, which are isolated from people who survived the infectious disease.


We’re seeking new approaches to overcoming challenges that have stymied vaccine development for diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
To push forward on vaccine development, we’ll use recent advances emerging from structural biology, machine learning and computer-assisted protein design to establish a new approach for creating vaccine candidates. And we’ll adopt “machine learning” strategies to develop powerful computer programs that can sort through large volumes of scientific data for insights.

We believe machine learning technology, now used for things like driverless car and threat assessments, could be particularly effective for probing clinical trial data for insights existing analytical methods fail to find.

Rapid Response

And finally, at CZ Biohub, we will form a Rapid Response team that can be activated during a disease outbreak. The team will deploy our advanced genome sequencing technologies to quickly learn how the disease is making people sick, how it’s spreading from one person to another and whether there are existing drugs that could be immediately repurposed for treatment. We’ll also develop and distribute materials that are crucial for screening patients and studying the disease.