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Successful completion of ELIXIR-EXCELERATE marks new stage in ELIXIR's development

After four years the ELIXIR-EXCELERATE project successfully concluded on 31 August 2019. The main goal of the 19 million euro Horizon 2020 project was to bring together bioinformatics resources across Europe and integrate them into a federated infrastructure for life science data. Achieving this goal, ELIXIR-EXCELERATE laid the groundwork for cost-effective and sustainable operation of ELIXIR in the future and continuing support to data-driven life science research in Europe and across the globe.

The project Final review, which took place in June 2019 in Lisbon, highlighted the coordination effort involved in linking life science research resources across ELIXIR Members and noted the benefits of doing so.

Many European countries have had long-running bioinformatics services. ELIXIR-EXCELERATE has transformed ad-hoc collaboration between the 47 partners from 17 countries in the project into systematic and sustained links between the national infrastructures and facilitated collaboration between their managers and technical experts.

The review also recognised ELIXIR's relevance on a  global stage and its role in tackling the major economic and societal challenges: "ELIXIR has become a fully operational infrastructure supporting basic and translational research and helping with global challenges related to human health, food safety, biodiversity, bio economy and more. Thus, the ELIXIR-EXCELERATE project represents without doubt a clear success story."

The results and work of ELIXIR-EXCELERATE have also been recognised in the European Commission's Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020, where it is presented as an early success story, illustrating the added value of Horizon 2020 for European research and development.

Niklas Blomberg, the ELIXIR Director and Coordinator of the ELIXIR-EXCELERATE project stated: "The ELIXIR-EXCELERATE grant was essential in establishing  ELIXIR as a working infrastructure. It helped us create our Platforms, our Communities and our Industry programme. It provided the necessary funding to build the initial portfolio of ELIXIR resources, a foundation we can now expand on."

The structure established by ELIXIR-EXCELERATE where ELIXIR Platforms that provide bioinformatics services, collaborate with domain specific Use Cases, proved to be an effective model for developing resources tailored to the specific needs within different scientific fields. The initial four Use Cases proposed by ELIXIR-EXCELERATE covered Human data, Rare diseases, Marine metagenomics and Plant sciences. Over the course of the project, the four Use Cases have become Communities and their number expanded to eleven, covering new domains and technology areas.

"Thanks to the EXCELERATE grant, ELIXIR is now in a position to address some of the major challenges in computational biology, such as responsible sharing of sensitive human data and the reproducibility and reusability of bioinformatics workflows", added Niklas Blomberg.

The main scientific and technical achievements include:

  • Defined criteria for and identified the ELIXIR Core Data Resources and contributed to the establishment of Global Biodata Coalition
  • Developed ELIXIR Tools and Service registry (bio.tools) and the ELIXIR benchmarking platform (openEbench)
  • Developed the ELIXIR Authentication and Authorisation Infrastructure (ELIXIR AAI)
  • Demonstrated technology to transfer sensitive human data to secure clouds
  • Identified the set of ELIXIR Recommended Interoperability resources
  • Defined the model of federated access to sensitive human data (local EGA)
  • Developed registry of data resources for Rare disease research
  • Led the development of the MIAPPE standards and the Breeding API for global exchange of open plant phenotyping data
  • Developed new analysis pipelines for marine metagenomics
  • Delivered 7 Innovation and SME Forum events, reaching more than 150 companies in seven countries
  • Established the ELIXIR Bioinformatics Suppliers Forum, allowing ELIXIR experts and industry-suppliers to network and collaborate
  • Launched an International Strategy, paving the way for collaborations with key global bioinformatics initiatives such as the NIH and Australian Data Commons
  • Launched ELIXIR Equal Opportunities Strategy to guide ELIXIR Nodes in ensuring equal opportunities in ELIXIR Hub, ELIXIR Nodes and in ELIXIR's advisory and governance committees
  • Established ELIXIR's F1000 channel for open peer-reviewed publications including those funded through EXCELERATE
  • Published over 60 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals

The ELIXIR-EXCELERATE was closely linked to the ELIXIR first Scientific Programme (2014-2018). ELIXIR is now moving on to implement its second Scientific Programme (2019-2023), which builds on the ELIXIR-EXCELERATE achievements.

To sustain and build on the work of ELIXIR Platforms and Communities supported by ELIXIR-EXCELERATE, in summer 2019 ELIXIR launched 28 new technical and scientific projects worth of 5 million euro, which will strengthen the portfolio of existing ELIXIR services and develop new services to address existing bottlenecks in working with life science data.

ELIXIR has engaged in and coordinated many other Horizon 2020 projects since the start of ELIXIR-EXCELERATE, and will continue to lead future EU projects in Horizon Europe. Since ELIXIR-EXCELERATE began, ELIXIR has become the coordinator of the FAIRPlus and EOSC-Life projects, and a partner in the EJP-RD, EOSCPilot, EU-stands4PM, eTransafe and RI Impact Pathways projects, providing opportunities for technical activities that began in EXCELERATE to be taken forward.

Bringing together a strong consortium from academia and industry, the FAIRplus project aims to increase the discovery, accessibility and reusability of human data from selected projects funded by the EU’s Innovative Medicine Initiative, and internal data from pharmaceutical companies. It started in January 2019 and will deliver a suite of tools and resources to enable wide adoption of best practises in life science data management.

EOSC-Life brings together the 13 Life Science ESFRI research infrastructures to create an open collaborative space for digital biology in the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). ELIXIR-EXCELERATE deliverables such as the ELIXIR-AAI, secure data and cloud infrastructure, tools ecosystem and the Recommended Interoperability Resources form the foundation for the EOSC-Life ambition to provide a coherent platform for data-driven life science research.