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Netherlands Creates BioASP to Make Dutch Bioinformatics a European Hotspot

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This week, the Dutch government will launch BioASP, a national bioinformatics service to support the country’s €260 million National Genomics Initiative, which was established at the end of 2001.

The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NOW), which is responsible for the genomics initiative, has already created four centers of excellence in genomics, in the areas of medical systems biology, plant systems biology, industrial fermentation, and medical genomics. “But they realized in an early phase that that sort of research is not going to come about if you haven’t got your bioinformatics in order,” said Jan Willem Tellegen, general manager of BioASP. As its name implies, the initial goal of BioASP was to serve as an application service provider for the country’s genomics researchers. Soon, however, “it became somewhat larger than that,” Tellegen said.

BioASP is an independent foundation that will coordinate a network of Dutch public and private research institutes and companies to create a national center of bioinformatics. The group’s business plan was approved at the end of October, and covers five primary objectives: building a national informatics infrastructure, conducting informatics research, supporting bioinformatics education, stimulating the business climate for bioinformatics startups, and reaching out to the larger European research community.

“We want to be recognized as a European hotspot in bioinformatics,” said Tellegen.

BioASP has secured €450,000 in funding for 2001-2002 from the Dutch government, and expects that a total of €2.1 million will be required for start-up costs through 2003. Tellegen said the group would begin applying for research funding early next year.

The Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics at the University of Nijmegen is already acting as a preliminary ASP for the program, offering the Swiss-Prot, EMBL, and PDB databases, SRS, Medline, and the new Protein World database.

BioASP is also in discussions with Spotfire and Rosetta Inpharmatics about integrating their software into the portal, and has plans to collaborate with IBM on a data integration system. “The idea is to see something added every six months,” Tellegen said

A search is currently underway for a CEO with a scientific background to oversee BioASP’s future activities.

— BT

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