Omics Evolution Summit- All things Omics 29th- 31st May 2012

ACGT Support Scientist- Ms Jessika Samuels attended the “Omics Evolution Summit” earlier this year. The summit took place in Boston, Massachusetts. The Summit brought together top scientists and leading pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, to discuss research and developments in drug discovery/pharmacogenomics, new technologies and the evolving landscape of the industry in genomics, proteomics, RNAi, next-generation sequencing, epigenetics and protein kinases. The conference was attended by over 200 researchers from across the globe and featured both oral and poster presentations. With a bumper packed agenda the oral presentations ran in six parallel sessions.

Ms Samuels had this to say when asked for a brief synopsis of the conference. “Sessions that focused on next generation sequencing were most informative. It was wonderful to see how the technology is being applied to current health research and the scale at which it promises to accelerate the pace of research and drug discovery. Two talks caught my attention. The first was the 1000 Genomes talk by Dr Rade Dramanac. The talk featured the project aims; to deep sequence the genome of a large number of individuals in order to gain a greater understanding of human genetic variation. The second talk, by Prof John Quackenbush covered the advances his team has made in the collection, management and analysis of sequencing data. This integrative approach has enabled his team to uncover cellular networks and pathways that lead to disease. Building on this they have developed predictive models to direct therapeutic development. The first talk emphasized the utility of next generation sequencing technology while the second highlighted current advances in the realm of bioinformatics that complement the interpretation of next generation sequence data.

Other tracks that were equally interesting were those concerning RNAi and Protein Kinases. These tracks focused more on applied research than those previously mentioned. The scale and infrastructure available to researcher in first world countries is startling in comparison to South Africa and other developing countries around the world.

By far the talk that I most enjoyed was that of Nobel Laureate, Dr Craig Mello. His talk entitled RNAi and Immortality: Recognition of Self/non-Self Nucleic Acids was both informative and quite inspirational. Not only is Dr Mello an outstanding researcher, he also possesses a great gift in communicating his research in an inspirational manner. Overall, I found the conference to be most informative. However, I wish I was able to attend all the presentations as they were all equally impressive.”

African cooperation 'dropped from EU research calls'

From 2013, African scientists may be more likely to be left out of lucrative collaborations with European Union (EU) researchers, according to some policy experts.

A mandate for EU research groups to include African partners in projects was dropped from the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) 2013 calls for proposals for EU competitive research grant issued  9 July.

The calls cover 11 themes, including agriculture, water and energy, and are worth 8.1 billion Euros (US$10.2 billion).

In the FP7 grants for the period 2010–2012, researchers engaged in investigating a number of themes, including fisheries and biotechnology, were required to collaborate with at least one international group from Africa.

Some fear that in the absence of a specific mandate, EU researchers will be unwilling to collaborate with African peers. There are also concerns that the decision may affect calls for grants for Horizon 2020, the EU’s 2014–2020 framework programme for research and innovation to replace the FP7, worth around US$100 billion.

François Stepman, European co-manager of the Platform for African-European Partnerships for Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD), told SciDev.Net that without requirements for African collaborations, many EU researchers will be reluctant to work with African scientists, believing it will not help their careers to do so.
“There’s a decline [among EU researchers] in trying to include African researchers,” Stepman said.

Young scientists keen on building careers are more likely to collaborate with US researchers, because this is more likely to lead to publications in international journals, he explained.

Stepman told SciDev.Net that EU scientists also worry African researchers can lack the administrative support available in developed countries, leading to challenges in “getting the reports in on time and in getting the finance”.
“You have to do too much work to get them on board,” he said.
The decline in partnerships will affect the ability of scientists to research subjects of mutual interest, including food security and price hikes, climate change, biofuels and genetically modified organisms, he added.

For African scientists, the fallout could be severe.
“Many African experts don’t have access to research funding from their [own] countries,” Kevin Chika Urama, executive director of the Africa Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) in Nairobi, Kenya, told SciDev.Net. “The EU research funding has been a pivotal avenue to partnership with EU researchers.”
“A lot of African issues, such as the needs of the poor in rural areas, are under-researched,” Urama added. “Some of these issues are not of interest [to European researchers],” he said, adding that a solution may be for the EU to set up a specific grant programme aimed at African researchers.

The move to drop the mandatory collaboration with Africa from 2013 calls for proposals reflects European political leaders’ disquiet about the use of funds outside the EU generally, said Andrew Cherry, coordinator for the Network for the Coordination and Advancement of Sub-Saharan Africa-EU Science & Technology Cooperation (CAAST-Net).
However, Daan du Toit, minister counsellor for science and technology at the South African Mission to the EU said the move does not mean fruitful cooperation is not possible.
“All topics of this year’s FP7 calls for proposals are open for African participation. African researchers have to identify, which ones are relevant for them, and ones where they can add value to the work of the European or international consortia — then participation will follow. In many of the topics in this year’s calls African researchers are well placed to play an important part.”

Michael Jennings, a European Commission spokesperson for research, innovation and science, told SciDev.Net there was a need “to better articulate science and technology capacity-building initiatives” to be supported  with “collaborative research activities that can be selected and funded through FP7 and the upcoming Horizon 2020 programme”.
Cherry told SciDev.Net that it remains to be seen how African researchers can participate in Horizon 2020.

Paula Park, SciDev.Net, 31 August 2012