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EU Awards 16.7M to EBI and Partners to Support Major Database Projects, Place BRENDA Back in Public Domain

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The Commission of the European Union has awarded €16.7 million ($21.2 million) to a consortium led by the European Bioinformatics Institute to ensure long-term support of several European bioinformatics databases and to end the commercial licensing model for the BRENDA enzyme database hosted at the University of Cologne in Germany.

Under the five-year project, called FELICS (Free European Life-science Information and Computational Services), the EBI will work with the Swiss Institute for Bioinformatics, the European Patent Office, and the University of Cologne to maintain a number of key resources and to further develop several other smaller-scale projects.

The funding, which falls under the "Research Infrastructures" portion of Europe's Sixth Framework Program, is the largest bioinformatics infrastructure award ever granted in Europe, according to a statement from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory.

Phil Gardner, an EBI scientist and technical coordinator of FELICS, said that the project encompasses three priority areas: networking, joint research, and transnational access to resources funded by the project.

Many bioinformatics workhorses, such as EMBL Bank, Ensembl, UniProt, InterPro, and others, will fall under the "network" portion of the project, because their IT infrastructures at EBI and SIB will be "enhanced to facilitate access," Gardner said.

Other databases, such as Genome Reviews (an annotated genome database), Integr8 (a data-integration portal), IntAct (for protein interaction data), IntEnz (Integrated relational Enzyme database), ArrayExpress (for gene expression data), ChEBI (Chemical Entities of Biological Interest), MSD (Macromolecular Structure Database), and GPSDB (the Gene and Protein Synonyms Database), will have new funding to support additional development, Gardner said.

FELICS will also support the extraction of information from the patent literature — a project led by the EPO, which will also collaborate on ChEBI.

Finally, Gardner said, the FELICS funding will "redefine the BRENDA business model."

BRENDA (the Braunschweig Enzyme Database), was initially freely available to all users, but had to move to a commercial model in 2001 when its developers hit a funding crisis.

Currently, the database is freely available to academic users, but commercial users must license it from its distributor, Biobase.

The path from the public domain to the commercial realm and back is similar to that of SwissProt, which had its own funding crises in the late 1990s and was marketed by Geneva Bioinformatics for several years before securing funding from the National Institutes of Health to relaunch as UniProt in 2002 [BioInform 10-28-02].

An EMBL statement outlining FELICS says that the project will support BRENDA and "release it from its current licensing constraints and provide unrestricted access to its data," but Gardner was unable to provide specific details on the new licensing terms.

Requests for comment from Biobase and the BRENDA developers at the University of Cologne were not returned by press time.

FELICS will also support a major curation effort to reduce a four-year backlog of data that needs to be added to BRENDA, Gardner said.

— Bernadette Toner ([email protected])

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