Multi million pound funding from the Government has lit the touchpaper to a world-leading data hub in Cambridge that could revolutionise bioscience research and lead to major healthcare advances.
The proposed ELIXIR data hub at Hinxton, if approved, will help create a bioeconomy in the UK and Europe – boosting development of Europe-based R & D business in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to food security and bioenergy.
ELIXIR is a pan-European project being steered by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and is one of the top priority projects which the Research Councils has recommended for funding under the Large Facilities Capital Fund.
Ministers have accepted the recommendation and earmarked funding for ELIXIR. This is subject to Ministerial approval of a full business case and to the availability of funding.
It is hoped approval can be obtained from the Treasury within a matter of months and that a start could be made on site in 2011. The facility would be housed at the European Bioinformatics Institute at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus. Although no exact cost is being ventured for the complete build at this stage, an international fundraising effort is well underway.
The building would be state-of-the-art in global terms and as such the bulk of construction work is likely to take place in 2012 with the facility opening in 2013.
A team of highly-skilled staff would be responsible for cataloguing and filing the data and providing user support, and it is predicted that the project would create around 100 hi tech jobs.
Buy-in seems universal, from UK Prime Minister David Cameron to European leaders, and across a wide-ranging European scientific community. And little wonder. A huge amount of data is held across various science centres of excellence across Europe and the ability to harvest prime data from a single source for collaborative research holds some potentially stunning benefits.
It is not dissimilar to the approach the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute applied in making data from the Human Genome Project available to the world’s science community.
ELIXIR has the potential to leverage the collective effort and transform biosciences research leading to major advances in:-
• Healthy ageing – Linking biomedical and biological data resources to facilitate understanding of diseases of old age; drive earlier diagnosis; and improve disease prevention and management.
• Food security – Easy access to genomes of animals, plants, insects and pathogens for crop improvement and improved health, welfare, and productivity of livestock.
• Biotech and pharma industry – Facilitation of pre-commercial research collaborations with the potential to attract more companies to Europe.
• Environmental change – Support for researchers who are monitoring ocean life; understanding effects of climate change on species diversity; and developing new methods to tackle pollution and waste. Also, the development of new plant-based sources for sustainable bioenergy.
• Bioenergy and industrial biotechnology – Access to the very diverse genomes and metagenomes of plants and microbes, as well as biochemical data derived therefrom, to support research into sustainable bioenergy and industrial biotechnology applications.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) welcomed the news that government funding had been earmarked.
BBSRC leads the funding strategy element of the project and has already contributed £10m. The Medical Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Wellcome Trust also support ELIXIR. Denmark, Finland, Spain and Sweden have already committed funds towards developing the ELIXIR network.
Professor Douglas Kell, chief executive, BBSRC, said: “This is really excellent news for the European bioscience community and we hope to leverage the buy-in to the broader vision for the benefit of millions of people.
“In this post-genomic world, the life sciences are generating vast amounts of data. Storing and curating them in central locations is the best way and most efficient way to make them available in digestible forms.
“To benefit from the information they contain we have to be able to mine such data for answers to many of the current problems in chemical, molecular and sub-cellular biology, and also to apply them in the context of systems and predictive models.
“To this end, ELIXIR offers essential services to the modern life sciences community, and these need both to be expanded and to be maintained. Only in this way can we make the most of previous and future investments in research in biology and biotechnology.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The UK’s science and research sector is world class and one that we can be very proud of. A strong research base is absolutely crucial to help secure long term economic growth, helping to rebalance the economy and creating the jobs of the future, which is why despite some tough spending decisions we have protected its funding.
“We have some of the best scientists, excellent facilities and cutting edge technology and it is our determination that we do all that we can to ensure the UK remains one of the world leaders in this field for many years to come.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: David Cameron