Q&A: Broad’s newly renamed clinical lab marks a turning point for the institute’s Genomics Platform

Niall Lennon of the Genomics Platform explains how the new name, Broad Clinical Labs, reflects how genomics is becoming more clinical.

Niall Lennon, chief scientific officer and chair of the board of BCL
Niall Lennon, chief scientific officer and chair of the board of BCL

Since the founding of the Broad Institute, Broad researchers have been conducting state-of-the-art, large-scale genome sequencing and analysis while also pioneering other ‘omics-based approaches such as proteomic and transcriptomic technologies. Ten years ago, the institute’s Genomics Platform launched a clinical lab, called the Clinical Research Sequencing Platform (CRSP), to offer high-quality molecular tests that can be used in a clinical setting.

Now CRSP is changing its name to Broad Clinical Labs in part to raise awareness around how it can bring large-scale ‘omic approaches to the clinic and help realize the technologies’ potential for improving human health.

We spoke with Niall Lennon, chief scientific officer and chair of the board of BCL, to learn more about the reasoning behind the name change and what it signifies for genomics and the Broad. Lennon is an institute scientist and director of the Genomics Platform at the Broad, where he is also an associate director of the Gerstner Center for Cancer Diagnostics.

Q: What is Broad Clinical Labs?

Broad Clinical Labs is a wholly owned, non-profit subsidiary of the Broad that offers services to external groups in both the research and clinical realms. BCL will continue to do what CRSP was doing, which is to offer high-scale, high-complexity ‘omics services, such as genome sequencing, proteome profiling, and translational analyses. BCL will partner with Broad and other organizations that want to sequence large numbers of genomes for things like genetic risk screening in newborns and adults, whole genome sequencing-based clinical diagnoses, clinical trials, and large-scale research projects.

The Genomics Platform’s laboratory offerings and teams will continue as before, as will the way we partner with Broad-based investigators to support research studies.

Q: Why are you changing the name to Broad Clinical Labs now?

Over the years, our teams have become adept at taking powerful approaches like sequencing and scaling them up so that they’re accessible and cost-effective for our clients in the scientific and medical communities. More and more, we’re encountering groups who want to do genomic or other ‘omic profiling of a large population, but they want to do it in a way that also allows some return-of-results to participants or can integrate with electronic health records.

Outside of our local community, not many people know that Broad actually has these capabilities. The current name of our clinical laboratory, CRSP, is not connected to Broad in an obvious way, and is sometimes confused with CRISPR. We felt that the time was right to rebrand to help us raise awareness and expand access to these kinds of services that are not currently offered by traditional commercial vendors.

We plan to offer these services more broadly because they are central to our mission of advancing the science and making these technologies useful for the clinical community, and to the Broad’s mission to advance discovery and biomedical science for improved therapeutics and diagnosis.

We will also continue to work with technology partners to advance the science of novel molecular tests and explore ways to maximize their clinical utility. We want to get these tests out into the world.

Q: What kind of clinical services will the BCL support?

Broad Clinical Labs intends to partner with groups looking for large-scale analyses, for example, a biobank that needs to sequence 10,000 genomes for a clinical study or a pharmaceutical company conducting a clinical trial involving thousands of people. We also hope to enable other studies that require large numbers of clinically validated measurements, such as efforts to develop polygenic scores using population-level data or to advance methods for newborn risk screening.

Q: What advances made this possible at Broad?

The capabilities and teams we have built in the Genomics Platform and the CRSP lab have enabled us to sequence and analyze more than 240,000 human genomes for All of Us Research Program, so far. When the pandemic hit, CRSP also allowed us to quickly establish a COVID diagnostic lab that went on to deliver nearly 38 million diagnostic test results in a three-year period.

The success of those efforts allowed us to invest even more in our people and infrastructure, such as building out our professional interpretation teams and regulatory teams. We learned how to operate at a scale we’d never attempted before, and the COVID lab helped us hone our skills in interacting with hundreds of entities, such as hospitals, schools, and employers.

We want to build on that success by establishing the BCL, so that we can deliver even more options to more partners who want high-quality, high-complexity services from a trusted team at the Broad. In doing so, we hope to increase the use of these cutting-edge technologies at scale in the clinical realm and to help improve clinical studies, research, and care.

Q: Will this change the way that Broad Institute researchers collaborate with the Genomics Platform?

While researchers outside the Broad who partner with us will only notice the name change, Broad-based investigators will continue to work with us in the same way as before, through the Genomics Platform. We will continue to offer the same cutting-edge services and expert guidance to those researchers as we’ve offered in the past.