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Chancellor announces £45m for EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute to aid life science research

A £45million investment in the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) at Hinxton will help life scientists around the world access more of the biological data they need.

Ewan Birney, director of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute
Ewan Birney, director of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute

Announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his Spring Statement last week, the funding will enable large and complex data sets to be turned into digestible knowledge.

Life scientists around the world use the institute’s infrastructure to store, share, access and analyse genomic and molecular biology data.

The investment - pitched as the government’s Industrial Strategy in action - will increase the centre’s computing, storage and building capacity, and aid its use of machine learning.

Welcoming the news, Dr Ewan Birney, director of the institute, based on the Wellcome Genome Campus, said: “EMBL-EBI websites receive over 38 million requests for data or analysis every day.

“The demand for our data resources has risen dramatically in the last decade and we expect this trend to continue, so we need to be ready for when it happens.

“Building a robust and accessible data infrastructure is crucial for the life science discoveries of the next decades.”

The government said strengthening the largest biological open data facility in the UK would lead to advances in drug discovery, research into cancer genetics, regenerative medicine and crop disease prevention.

Science minister Chris Skidmore said: “People around the world are affected by food security, diseases that could be prevented and access to effective medication. Through the vital datasets made available by EMBL-EBI many of these issues can – and are – being prevented.

“That is why the government has invested £45million to boost the work being undertaken at the Institute, and why boosting the UK’s genomics sector is a key commitment in our Life Sciences Sector Deal, to avoid premature deaths and to ensure food security for years to come.”

The institute is supporting initiatives including the Human Cell Atlas, the world’s first data platform that maps every single cell in the human body, which will enable scientists to identify which genes associated with disease are active in our bodies and where.

It is also involved in the UK Biobank, a collection of health data from more than 500,000 volunteers across the country, designed to offer insights into disease prevention and treatment.

And it is supporting the Earth BioGenome, which aims to characterise the genomes of all of plant and animal species on the planet.

In five years, 20 petabytes - 20,000 terabytes - of new biological data has been deposited with the institute.

The funding will be delivered by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) strategic priorities fund.

UKRI chief executive Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “Our ability to process, access and interrogate large volumes of data is absolutely crucial to scientific discovery in the 21st century, none more so than in health and life sciences where the fields of genomics and molecular biology are fuelling major advances.

“This funding enables EMBL-EBI to continue to grow its global leadership in large biological datasets and bioinformatics, which are used by researchers all over the world, every day of the week.”

The government said UK science and innovation is supported by the largest increase in public research and development investment on record, with a commitment to raise R&D funding to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.

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