New ASF Roundtable to Spotlight HPC’s Role in Fighting COVID-19

By Oliver Peckham

February 16, 2021

With the one-year mark of the pandemic in the U.S. rapidly approaching and vaccinations ramping up, decision-makers and stakeholders are beginning to look back on lessons learned from this crisis – and look ahead to the next one. Advanced technologies have played a wide range of critical roles during the pandemic, and the upcoming roundtable from the Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) will feature an array of experts exploring how those technologies helped us fight the pandemic, and how those capabilities can be leveraged again in the future.

Titled “Fighting Covid with Advanced Technologies: HPC Roadmap for a Mission Critical, Rapid Deployment Event,” the roundtable – which, of course, will be virtual – is presented by HPCwire and will be held this Thursday, the 18th, from 11 AM to 12:30 PM Pacific Time. Registration (free of charge) is available at this link.

The event will feature two keynotes: one from Dr. Susan Gregurick of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and another from Drs. Haribabu Arthanari and Christoph Gorgulla (Harvard) and Dr. William Magro (Google).


Dr. Susan Gregurick

NIH Keynote: Creating a Coordinated Data Approach to Help Address COVID-19

The NIH has played a frontline role throughout the pandemic on a number of levels. Dr. Gregurick will take the virtual stage to share insight from her role as the NIH’s associate director for data science and the director of its Office of Data Science Strategy (ODSS). Her talk will span the office’s efforts to leverage big data for the social good throughout the pandemic. As Dr. Gregurick will explain, these efforts included accelerating rapid testing for COVID-19; assessing the risks that children face from COVID-19; establishing a connected data platform for COVID-19 research; and more, all the while working to manage and harmonize a massive amount of data.


Google Keynote: Harnessing the Scale of Cloud to Accelerate Discovery of COVID-19 Therapeutics

The three speakers for the second keynote will outline an incredibly ambitious project they undertook last summer: screening over a billion chemical compounds for their potential as therapeutics to fight COVID-19. In aggregate, these researchers used hundreds of millions of CPU hours in an attempt to breach one of the virus’ 17 key proteins, eventually whittling the catalog down to just a few thousand candidates after accelerating their screening process by multiple orders of magnitude. The researchers won HPCwire’s 2020 Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of HPC in the Cloud for this astonishing work – and now, they’re here to tell the full story of how they did it.

Drs. Haribabu Arthanari, Christoph Gorgulla and William Magro

These keynotes – each clocking in at a brisk twenty minutes – will be bookended by a variety of other sessions. Ahead of the keynotes, Dr. Ari Berman, CEO of BioTeam, will set the scene with the BioTeam opening session, exploring how access to HPC and data resources changed the conversation during the pandemic. 

“When the extent of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was realized, the world went into survival mode. Governance bodies quickly removed many of the typical restrictions on health data,” Berman said. “They lowered international collaboration barriers while supercomputing centers and public cloud providers offered prioritized and low-cost time on their systems for this critical research. This change allowed great minds and scientific computing systems to converge and collaborate in real-time to hunt for the cure.”

During Quantum’s fireside chat on storage architectures for research data, which follows the two keynotes, Eric Bassier, senior director of product marketing and enablement at Quantum, will speak with MedData Research VP Jeff Plum about how the NIH Clinical Center has tackled COVID data-related challenges using modern storage architectures. 

“Advancements in genome sequencing have made it much easier to use genomics research to study this virus and accelerate development of a vaccine,” Bassier said. “The rate of genome sequencing used in the research of this pandemic is exponentially more than previous pandemics even a few years ago.  This is causing massive growth in the data being generated in life sciences.”

Later in the roundtable, there will be two simultaneous twenty-minute case study sessions. One case study session will be hosted by Dr. Michael J. McManus, director of precision medicine and principal engineer for Intel, and will focus on Intel’s contributions to the fight against COVID-19. The other will be hosted by Dr. Andrew Bartko, executive director of UC San Diego’s Center for Microbiome Innovation (CMI), and will focus on reducing COVID-19 transmission with early detection through wastewater monitoring.

Last but certainly not least, there will be two highlight sessions from solution providers. First will be MemVerge’s spotlight session on big memory acceleration of single-cell RNA sequencing, and then Panasas’s HPC storage discussion on optimizing performance and capacity for research applications, hosted by Adam Marko, director of research solutions for Panasas.

The full schedule follows (all times in Pacific):

2:00 PM – 2:10 PM BioTeam Opening Session

2:10 PM – 2:30 PM NIH Keynote

2:30 PM – 2:50 PM Google Keynote

2:50 PM – 3:10 PM Quantum Fireside Chat

3:10 PM – 3:25 PM MemVerge Spotlight Session

3:25 PM – 3:45 PM Intel Case Study

3:25 PM – 3:45 PM UC San Diego Case Study

3:35 PM – 3:45 PM Panasas HPC Storage Discussion

To register for the ASF roundtable, click here.

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