It is always pleasing to see our investments in the research base bearing fruit whether it be in excellent publications or social and economic impact. So the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute of the creation of a new Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV) at Hinxton was very welcome. The new CTTV will aim to address a wide range of human diseases and will share its data openly in the interests of accelerating drug discovery. This new centre will employ up to 50 people from the partner organisations but longer term will involve other organisations and companies who are interested in this area. It was particularly good to receive confirmation from Patrick Vallance, President of R&D at GSK, that their decision to base the CTTV in the UK was influenced by their recognition of the UK’s world class capabilities and skills in the areas of genomic, data mining and translational research. Much of this capability has been built using BBSRC funding for basic research in bioinformatics and genomics, along with other funders such as the Wellcome Trust and MRC. The CTTV will itself be based in the EBI South Building, home of the ELIXIR Hub and built with Research Council funding led by BBSRC. [...]
Gastro-intestinal track research has huge importance for health and wellbeing – and is an exciting area of science. My view was reinforced last week when I paid a visit to the Institute for Food Research at Norwich and heard some great talks by its research faculty. Phylogenomics and molecular approaches to food borne pathogens such as Salmonella species, protein polysaccharides interactions and their impacts on immune cell function, kinase ligands as important targets for dietary polyphenols and the characterisation of gut microbiota in early infancy were just some of the topics on the menu. Over recent years, interest has grown in the effects of diet on gut microbiota, the impact of microbiota on brain and behaviour as well as the interplay between the gut microbiota and disease states such as obesity. [...]
The last few weeks before Christmas have been very busy with meetings with Chief Executives of the other Research Councils, partnership meetings with industry, BIS and other public bodies, as well as presentations and talks.
I attended a council meeting of the Society of Biology and agreed with members around the table that we should explore other areas where we could work more closely together.
The highlight of the past two weeks (apart from my daughter’s graduation!) was the official launch of ELIXIR in Brussels on 18 December. This marked the transition of ELIXIR to an operational phase as Europe’s sustainable infrastructure for biological data. [...]
Agriculture and food security in various forms were the main areas of focus during the past week. The agri-food chain (i.e. from farm to fork) contributes about £96Bn to the UK economy and is equivalent to 7% GVA (gross value added). It also provides over 3M jobs.
The UK government recently recognised the importance of the agri-tech sector and published a strategy earlier in the year for the industry. The aim is to ensure that the UK becomes a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability both in the UK and globally. I attended my first meeting of the leadership council for the Agri-Tech Strategy whose chair is Judith Batchelar from Sainsbury’s. It will be important going forward that all the key stakeholders work together, including industry, to drive the strategy forward. BBSRC has been very active in this area in the past and the Diet and Health Research Industry Club has been particularly successful and we will continue to play a very active role. [...]
Last week was extremely busy and varied, starting in Swindon and ending in Manchester. The recurrent themes for the week were value and impact. I attended a meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology which discussed how best to maximize the value of UK strengths in research, innovation and higher education. There were some interesting perspectives put forward by the speakers including the continued need for cultural change, including an increase in risk taking, in both academia and industry to realize the UK’s true potential; the fact that British companies have adapted to the changing business environment but not actually changed their modus operandi and really driven innovation; how the impact agenda including schemes from ourselves and other research councils has begun to drive people thinking about the broader outcomes of research not just in economic terms, and good examples of academia-industry interactions such as the National Structural Integrity Research Centre were mentioned. [...]