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UK Moves Ahead with Funding for ELIXIR, UKCMRI Facilities

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK government has earmarked funding to create a center that will house and manage genomic, proteomic, and other research data near Cambridge, and it also has cleared £220 million ($354 million) for capital funding to build the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI).

The Medical Research Council has agreed to earmark funding to build the European Life-science Infrastructure for Biological Information (ELIXIR) facility, and the Department of Health has decided to allocate the funding for the UKCMRI, the UK government said today.

UKCMRI will build on the research interests of the National Institute for Medical Research and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, and will focus on computing, engineering, imaging, chemistry, and physics.

"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," Prime Minister David Cameron, who was scheduled to meet with the Council for Science and Technology (CST) today, said in a statement.

In December, the Development Control Committee, a panel of the Camden Council that governs the London Borough of Camden, gave its approval to begin construction of UKCMRI, which will be located near the St. Pancras rail station. The estimated £500 million project has been controversial, with some local opposition voicing a variety of concerns including the inclusion of a high category 3 lab, allowing for study of some infectious diseases such as flu viruses, and that it would be a target for terrorists.

Construction on the UKCMRI project is expected to begin this May and end in 2015.

The other project, ELIXIR, will be a pan-European resource that will provide a "sustainable infrastructure for biological information in Europe," and will support life science and translational research efforts, The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) said today in a statement.

The funding for the project will enable the construction of ELIXIR's central hub, which will be located at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) in Hinxton and will support nodes distributed throughout Europe.

BBSRC said that it already has contributed £10 million to establish ELIXIR, and that commitments for funding have been made by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, as well as by Denmark, Finland, Spain, and Sweden.

"In this post-genomic world, the life sciences are generating vast amounts of data," BBSRC Chief Executive Douglas Kell said in a BBSRC statement.

"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," he continued.

ELIXIR, Kell said, "offers essential services to the modern life sciences community, and these need both to be expanded and to be maintained."

"This is the first step towards building a distributed infrastructure for biological information throughout Europe," added EMBL-EBI Director and ELIXIR Coordinator Janet Thornton. "By providing public access to the wealth of knowledge generated by the global research community, we will empower researchers in academia and industry to solve some of society's most pressing problems."

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