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Europe’s Bio-IT Community


By Kevin Davies

November 10, 2009 | First Base | After months of planning and preparation, hosting a conference usually flashes in the blink of an eye. So it was at Bio-IT World Europe, held for the first time at BioTechnica 2009 in early October. The event was deemed a success, not only by us but by our German hosts, Deutsche Messe, such that we will be returning with a bigger and even more exciting program in 2010.

The Fair Grounds in Hannover will be familiar to folks who have attended CeBIT in past years. The cluster of conference halls and exhibition arenas resembles a small town, but the hospitality and organization surpassed our highest expectations. (Our parent company, CHI, produced another event on Protein Engineering, at the same time.)

One of the most gratifying features of the event was the spectrum of European talent presenting work that, in many cases, left me both impressed and wondering why I hadn’t come across these people before.

This issue contains more detailed reports on a couple of aspects of Bio-IT World Europe. Chris Dagdigian (BioTeam) delivered an indispensable sermon on cloud computing (see, p. 24). And we were also witness to breaking news on opening day, as Illumina’s director of computational biology, Dirk Evers, announced the creation of IlluminaCompute, a three-way partnership with Dell and Isilon (see, p. 7).

Over the course of three days, there were many outstanding presentations. Phil Butcher, manager of IT for the Sanger Institute, is still wondering what he did to deserver the task of building out an IT infrastructure to handle 100,000 human genome sequences in the next five years. At the moment, he is managing 8,000 cores, 4 Petabytes of usable storage capacity, and 1,000 square meters of floor space. The consumption of 4 MegaWatts of power is straining the electricity system, highlighting a very real need on green computing. Matthew Trunnell (Broad Institute) has a similar quantity of storage, although with fewer nodes and less total power consumption. Managing next-gen sequencing data was the easy part, he said, compared to the crazy number of files of other data types.

Several speakers introduced valuable tools for data management and sharing. Maria Krestyaninova (European Bioinformatics Institute, U.K.) described SIMBioMS, a system for information management in biomedical systems particularly well suited for collaborative R&D projects handling multiple groups, platforms, or datasets. Examples include MOLPAGE (biomarker discovery) and ENGAGE (genomic epidemiology). Another well received resource was BioClipse, a powerful open-source workbench for chemo- and bioinformatics, presented by chief developer Ola Spjuth, a Swedish Ph.D. student. Christian Herhaus (Merck-Serono) described MOLWIND, a stunning cheminformatic visualization tool that displays chemical structures similar to Google Earth (
www.molwind.org). And Andrew Berridge (Pfizer, U.K.) discussed pfizerpedia, a semantic wiki for gathering comprehensive drug patent information.

Carol Goble (University of Manchester) is perhaps best known for her open-source workflow tool Taverna, but bemoaned the lack of a supporting community to share such schemes. “Where’s my water cooler? Where’s my virtual pub?” she asked rhetorically, before presenting a possible homegrown solution: MyExperiment.org. The site already carries more than 800 workflows, and is gaining interest from pharma as well as academics, she said. And Tibor van Rooij (Genome Quebec) presented CASTOR QC, a novel database approach that dramatically accelerates genomewide association studies.

That is just a snapshot of the four concurrent conference tracks held at Bio-IT World Europe. We look forward to convening again in 2010.

Boston 2010
Before then, however, there is the small matter of the 2010 Bio-IT World Expo in Boston (April 20-22, 2010). Confirmed keynotes include Christoph Westphal, co-founder and CEO of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and senior VP for external drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline, which snapped up Sirtris for a cool $700 million last year. Christoph has an unparalleled view of the challenges and opportunities confronting the pharma industry, having observed them from outside as a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and now trying to innovate as an insider. We also welcome John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School, and an authority of electronic medical records, health informatics, and one of the first ten intrepid volunteers for George Church’s Personal Genome Project.

With seven dedicated tracks and a large program of pre-con workshops including cloud computing, imaging informatics and next-gen sequencing, it promises to be our most dynamic meeting yet. A handful of our confirmed speakers include Sandy Aronson (Partners Healthcare), Toby Bloom (Broad Institute), Phil Bourne (UCSD/PLoS Computational Biology), Ken Buetow (caBIG), Phil Butcher (Sanger Institute), Stephen Friend (Sage Bionetworks), William Hayes (Biogen Idec), James Heywood (PatientsLikeMe), Craig Lipset (Pfizer), John Overington (EMBL-EBI), Eric Perakslis (J&J), Mollie Shields-Uehling (SAFE-Biopharma), and scores more.

Please join us for what should be a very informative and enjoyable meeting.


This article also appeared in the November-December 2009 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine.
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