European bioinformatics infrastructure ELIXIR launched

18 December 2013

A bioinformatics infrastructure initiative intended to support European research and development has been formally launched.
 
ELIXIR was established to orchestrate the collection, quality control and archiving of large amounts of biological and biomedical data, in order to create a sustainable infrastructure for the life sciences, enabling easy data sharing and access and supporting effective translation into medicine, bioindustry and society.
 
The initiative is based in a ‘hub’ centre next to the EMBL-EBI in Cambridge, UK, with associated ‘nodes’ located in centres of research excellence in different countries. Along with EMBL, seventeen member states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (non-binding agreement) to participate in ELIXIR.
 
On 18th December 2013 ELIXR became a ‘permanent legal entity’ following ratification of the ELIXIR Consortium Agreement (ECA) by the UK, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Estonia, and was formally launched as an EMBL ‘special project’. Other countries (including Denmark, Finland, Norway, France, Italy and the Netherlands) are expected to work towards ratification in the coming year.
 
ELIXIR, which is publicly funded by EU member states and national funding bodies, emphasises that it will maintain open access to all biological data and supports open innovation.
 
Director-General of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate-General Robert-Jan Smits said: “I am certain that ELIXIR will put Europe at the front edge of life sciences research by helping the scientific community to address grand health challenges and to find innovative solutions for medical care", whilst UK BBSRC chief executive Professor Jackie Hunter commented: "The collaborative agreement represented by ELIXIR ensures that Europe has the capability to maximise impact through effectively storing, curating, managing, sharing and interpreting bioscience data".
 
Comment: The importance of bioinformatics to underpin biomedical research and clinical practice in coming years as genomic medicine gains momentum can hardly be overestimated, although the distinction between the two areas is often far from clear, as both ‘pure’ researchers and clinicians undertake all sorts of research intended to improve medical knowledge and practice. Where medical data is involved then new issues of consent and confidentiality can come into play, and the open access model may have limitations in these circumstances; however, efforts towards developing expertise and shared international infrastructure are likely to be largely beneficial. 

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