Taking stock – the ELIXIR innovation and industry programme

Interactions with industry have been a key part of ELIXIR since the infrastructure was launched in 2013. Nearly ten years on, we reflect on how the ELIXIR industry programme has evolved and its impact so far.

As a publicly-funded infrastructure, ELIXIR develops, standardises and safeguards Europe’s valuable life science data and tools, all of which remain freely available to global users in both academia and industry. Our ultimate goal is to accelerate the understanding of life in a way that translates directly to public benefit, for example in healthcare, food security and the environment. For this to be realised, ELIXIR resources must also serve the needs of industry and accelerate not just research but also innovation.

Bringing people together

In 2014, ELIXIR held its first Innovation and SME (Small to Medium-sized Enterprise) Forum in Copenhagen. Since then, 12 ELIXIR countries have hosted a Forum, with 8 holding more than one, on topics as diverse as artificial intelligence, healthcare diagnostics and distributed data analysis. In total there have been approximately one thousand participants at 15 face-to-face events, with the involvement of over 300 companies. By gathering together industry and academia around stimulating topics, conversations at the Innovation and SME Fora have sparked collaborations and partnerships that continue to develop.

A popular ELIXIR event, the BioHackathon Europe, is open to industry participation and has also spawned many successful projects and hands-on knowledge transfer. Past industry participants include Atos (quantum bioinformatics), DNANexus (boolean knowledge graphs) and Owkin (machine learning). Bringing coders together for a week of intense and focused team working ensures that the BioHackathon Europe focuses on “doing”, and is a good complement to the networking focus of the Innovation and SME Forum.

Collaboration through projects

A more recent development is the creation of the ELIXIR Knowledge Exchange scheme, which supports collaborative projects between industry and academia. Projects funded to date include collaborations between ELIXIR Sweden and the BioInnovation Institute Foundation in systems biology and ELIXIR Finland and VEIL.AI on health data anonymisation, with an ELIXIR UK industry collaboration in the pipeline.

The FAIR Cookbook is an example of an ELIXIR resource that has been co-created by academia and industry. The Cookbook is a live collection of recipes for making life science data FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable). It was developed within the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI)-funded FAIRPlus project, which brings together ELIXIR partners and industry representatives of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). The Cookbook has been widely recommended in open science policies, for instance, in the Horizon Europe Work Programme for Health and the Pistoia Alliance FAIR4Clin guide.

Creating community

European life science companies are geographically, technologically and scientifically diverse, therefore industry engagement activities need to connect at the national and subject-specific level. This is achieved by using ELIXIR’s network of expert groups.

There are 22 Nodes in ELIXIR, which vary in the maturity of their industry interactions. Many Nodes run industry engagement activities, details of each country's activities can be visualised on the industry interactive map. One example Node, ELIXIR Netherlands, has been instrumental in establishing an industry engagement programme in Health-RI, which involves collaborations with many industry associations to support the reuse of health data.

ELIXIR’s 15 subject-specific Communities also act as good platforms for engaging with industry. For example, The Food and Nutrition Community and the Plant Sciences Community have both organised SME Forums, and the Microbial Biotechnology Community and the Federated Human Data Community are involved with ELIXIR Knowledge Exchange schemes. Communities also interact by running industry workshops (for example, the Galaxy Community with Biolytix) and by engaging with industry-led projects (for example, the Toxicology Community with the eTRANSAFE project to improve the safety of drugs in development).

Tracking impact

With many ELIXIR activities having potential impact on innovation, it is important to measure actual outcomes. In 2021, an ELIXIR report provided a snapshot of the impact of ELIXIR resources, with 76% of the SMEs surveyed stating that their product or service would not exist without data in open repositories.

Additional ways to monitor resource impact in real time are being developed, for example by tracking the mention of names of ELIXIR resources in patent applications. The patent tile on the ELIXIR impact dashboard displays the preliminary outputs of this work. Although not all ELIXIR resources are included, the dashboard indicates that, as of data available in April 2023, over 11,000 patent applications have been filed mentioning ELIXIR resources. The dashboard also lists the resources which have been cited and shows filing locations, the top five being the US, Europe, the UK, China and Japan. In parallel, ELIXIR-supported publications which are cited in patents are also tracked, with 23 examples available (see the publications tile of the impact dashboard).

Looking forward

ELIXIR was selected as a case study in the PathOS project, which is developing indicators to measure the impact of open science and understand the pathways leading to socioeconomic benefits. The PathOS team will perform a cost-benefit analysis of selected ELIXIR resources, highlighting impacts such as job creation and tax revenues, along with benefits for society like improved health and food supply. 

Entering the tenth year of the ELIXIR industry programme, we see the early vision of ELIXIR as an outward looking, impactful infrastructure being fulfilled. We look forward to the challenges of the next decade which include widening participation of the ELIXIR expert groups and building on the strengths of the industry events and the knowledge exchange scheme. We hope that by further understanding our impact, and the pathways to its creation, we will learn ways to further enhance the effectiveness of the ELIXIR industry and innovation programme in the coming decade.

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Fri 14 April 2023