Differences in bioinformatics pipelines may contribute to substantial variability across labs, in terms of variant annotation, interpretation, and reporting. The lack of standardization is an emerging concern, especially given the growing availability of commercial bioinformatics software options that reduce the barrier for new labs to adopt next-generation sequencing (NGS). To demonstrate how differences in commercial software can influence analysis, organizers of the Two-Day Symposium for Molecular Biologists in Pathology at the European Congress of Pathology (ECP) 2017 set up an NGS Bioinformatics Challenge where both Illumina and QIAGEN were invited to participate.
The concept of the challenge was simple: 3 institutions in Germany (Universitätsklinikum Köln, Erlangen, and Charite in Berlin) contributed FASTQ files for a total of 12 tumor samples that were known to harbor pathogenic variants. These data were then sent to Illumina and QIAGEN 2 months before the event, and subjected to variant calling and interpretation using their commercially available offerings. Both Illumina and QIAGEN were blinded to the identity of the known variants, and reported on their findings at a round-table session at ECP where the organizers also revealed what the expected variants were, and how they had been interpreted by each institution. To add an interesting twist, each contributing institution had used a different library prep (and sequencing platform) for their samples: The Berlin samples used the AmpliSeq Colon and Lung v2 hotspot panel and were sequenced on the Ion Torrent PGM; both Erlangen and Köln samples were sequenced on an Illumina MiSeq™ System, but the Erlangen samples used the Illumina TruSight® Tumor 15 prep and the Köln samples used a custom QIAGEN amplicon panel.