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. [...]
One major meeting of last week was our latest Audit Board meeting, that covered a variety of areas of importance to ensuring the orderly running of BBSRC, including scrutiny of our financial audits and of potential risks of various kinds.
We also had the last of our community ‘conversations’ at a well-attended venue in London, constituting the last of our ‘roadshows’ for this season. One topic which we trailed involved some plans for rolling out funding in Industrial Biotechnology, where we plan further open meetings in the new year; these were also one discussion topic of an extended internal strategy meeting that took place last week. [...]
Last week saw the penultimate of our ‘roadshow’ conversations, held in Glasgow and attracting participants from both Scotland and elsewhere. As ever we had a very useful exchange of thoughts on a wide range of topics, not least about how to streamline the peer review process, where some very helpful suggestions were made. In line with an interesting recent editorial, one question elicited discussion on the extent to which funding should be concentrated on (the typically more tractable) model organisms, a question brought into focus by the comparatively little study devoted to Chalara fraxinea (the cause of ash die-back – here is a link on how to spot it) nor to thousands of other organisms. I won’t claim to have any answers here, but clearly folk may wish to give special thought to justifying the choice of organism in proposals.
Last week began with one of the regular meetings of the Chief Executives of MRC, EPSRC, BBSRC and the TSB with senior representatives of AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, along with representatives of the Bioindustry Association and the ABPI. This ‘Pharma Forum’ provides a useful vehicle for discussing cross-cutting research directions, especially given the net worth to the UK economy of the pharmaceuticals industry.
We also had one of the regular meetings of Chief Executives with Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, which again provided a very useful forum for the exchange of thoughts on a variety of topical and strategic issues as we move towards the autumn statement. [...]
Because of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, the blog had a week off. Among many other meetings was a very useful one with Sir John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and other Departmental Chief Scientists. These meetings provide excellent fora for developing scientific thinking across Government Departments, and certainly expose me to issues broader than those that I typically contemplate.
We were pleased to note the announcement (amid a welter of bad puns such as ‘tomato genome project bears fruit’, ‘sauce code’, and the like) of the sequences of two tomato genomes. Given the very widespread consumption of tomatoes, and their perceived health benefits, it will be most exciting to see how quickly this knowledge translates into strains with improved traits such as taste, anti-oxidant content, post-harvest longevity, disease resistance, and so on. (Incidentally, growing tomatoes in saline conditions can improve their taste, but not yield, considerably!) [...]