CABANA – not just a shelter from the sun

You may have heard the name CABANA floating around the EMBL training programme, but you may not know exactly what it is. Here we present a handy guide to the project, its origins and where it stands now almost three years on from its launch.

PHOTO: CABANA logo
PHOTO: CABANA logo

CABANA is a capacity strengthening project for bioinformatics in Latin America. It aims to accelerate the implementation of data-driven biology in the region by creating a sustainable capacity-building programme focusing on three challenge areas – communicable disease, sustainable food production and protection of biodiversity.

Want to know more about the project? Check out this video from the CABANA consortium.

With just over a year left of the project, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – part of the UK Aid Budget, the capacity building element of the project is ramping up. A big part of the project is running a series of training events for the Latin American audience, something that began with the centralised events team within EMBL-EBI, but is now increasingly being operated in Latin America by the partners themselves.

CABANA has virtualised its training programme for the rest of 2020 and has committed to a fully virtual 2021 programme too. Check out the latest events on offer, or visit the new virtual training portal for the e-learning options.

Follow the CABANA project on Twitter or Facebook for the latest news and updates.

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EMBL-EBI Industry Partnerships: Work with us to solve your data challenges

Partnering with industry has been a core part of EMBL-EBI’s mission right from the very beginning and a significant number of our users come from this sector. As we celebrate an incredible 25 years of industry collaboration next year, let’s hear from Andrew Leach, the new Head of Industry Partnerships at EMBL-EBI to find out a bit more.

Image: Dr Andrew Leach, joined EMBL-EBI in August 2016 following a 20 year career at GSK Research and Development. He took on the role as Head of Industry Partnerships in the summer this year, and will also continue as Head of Chemical Biology.

Industry Partnerships: What does this mean at EMBL-EBI?

Industry Partnerships at EMBL-EBI is about helping to connect public and industry science. We aim to foster and facilitate collaboration, knowledge exchange and networking between scientists and technologists at EMBL-EBI and their counterparts working in industry. We work across multiple sectors and with organisations from very large multinationals to very small start-ups.

Tell us more about the opportunities for scientists in industry to interact with EMBL-EBI.

EMBL-EBI’s Industry Programme is a subscription-based programme for global companies who are using EMBL-EBI’s data and resources as part of their research and development. Representatives from the member companies meet regularly in a forum where we share details of the latest innovations in EMBL-EBI’s services and research. The programme also organises a series of knowledge exchange workshops that explore new emerging areas for R&D. These events are open to any employee of the member companies. The programme also provides a great opportunity for scientists to meet their peers in a pre-competitive, science-oriented environment to discuss the latest developments.

We are always keen to hear of opportunities to explore new strategic partnerships with industry. Open Targets is an excellent example; this ground-breaking public-private consortium was established in 2014 with the overall goal of improving how we identify and prioritise drug targets. Open Targets currently involves six partners: EMBL-EBI, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol Myers Squibb, Takeda and Sanofi.

We also have a proud history of research collaborations that bring together expertise from academia and industry to work on a common research problem or to address a particular data or technology challenge. One particular advantage of collaborating with EMBL-EBI is that we have tremendous flexibility in the way that collaborations can be set up, from small projects lasting a few months, to much larger projects. Key to success is active participation and commitment from everyone involved.

What about smaller companies? 

Every company has to start somewhere and we are committed to engage with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-up enterprises. These are very often the drivers of innovation, and we find that such organisations make extensive use of the resources available at EMBL-EBI. We actively work with organisations such as OneNucleus, the UK Trade and Investment agency (UKTI), the InnovateUK Bioinformatics knowledge-transfer network and the ELIXIR SME and Innovation Forum to showcase the opportunities at EMBL-EBI. Of course, we are also very keen to hear from any smaller company interested in collaborating more directly with us on a particular problem.

What can be achieved by connecting with industry?

Having worked in industry myself (for many years at GSK), I know that industry science is often just as cutting-edge as in traditional academic circles – but historically it has been much less visible due in part to commercial sensitivities together with the fact that publication was not seen as a key goal in industry. These attitudes are changing now; there is a real drive within industry to collaborate externally and especially with leading academic groups and institutions. Industry can bring “real world” applications of the resources and research that we do at the EMBL-EBI; it can be very rewarding to see how the work we do can translate into practical applications. Plus, it can be a way for students and post-docs to get some insights into what a career in industry looks like, and potentially for industry to identify potential recruits for the future!

What would you like to see in the future for Industry Partnerships at EMBL-EBI?

I would like to see our connections with industry continue to grow and strengthen. We have historically had very strong connections with the Pharma and biotech sectors and it would be good to see us strengthen our relationships in other areas of bioscience and also with relevant data science and technology sectors. Of course, we are always keen to create new large-scale strategic partnerships such as Open Targets but we also recognise that a smaller-scale, one-on-one collaboration for example between an SME and an EMBL-EBI Principle Investigator can be equally fruitful. We also want to make further steps to encourage entrepreneurs; this includes working with Jo Mills (Entrepreneurship and Innovation Centre Manager) who with her team is creating a new Startup School for genomics and biodata. This will support early-stage ideas and provide knowledge and confidence to develop them into future products or services.

We always welcome opportunities to explore new partnerships and ventures.

Find out moreGet in touch

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EMBL’s Corporate Partnership Programme celebrates 10 years of impact

As EMBL’s Advanced Training Centre passes its 10th anniversary, Corporate Partnership Manager Jonathan Rothblatt reflects on the ATC Corporate Partnership Programme and how it promotes training for outstanding scientists.

Jonathan Rothblatt, Corporate Partnership Manager at EMBL. PHOTO: Jonathan Rothblatt

Since its opening in March 2010, the EMBL Advanced Training Centre (ATC) has served as a forum for the scientific exchange of new ideas, data, approaches and tools. An important component of this is the ATC Corporate Partnership Programme (CPP), which aims to connect companies with the latest developments in molecular biology and build successful long-term relationships between EMBL and corporate partners.

EMBL Advanced Training Centre built in 2010. PHOTO: KARL HUBER FOTODESIGN

Supporting outstanding scientists

The support that industry partners provide through their membership in the CPP, ensures that outstanding scientists – from PhD students to established investigators – are not excluded from attending a course or conference, or working in an EMBL laboratory as a visiting scientist, because of a lack of funds to cover conference fees or travel expenses. Since 2010, CPP funding has provided fellowships covering registration fees and travel costs to more than 2,100 participants from over 90 countries, attending more than 350 EMBL or EMBO courses, conferences, or symposia.

In addition to the significant impact of their financial support, the engagement and collaboration of corporate partners is crucial in the development and delivery of EMBL’s courses and conferences. For example, of the 33 training courses held at EMBL Heidelberg in 2019, 11 were co-organised with CPP partners. Another example is the EMBL Conference ‘Expanding the Druggable Proteome with Chemical Biology’, which took place in February 2020. This conference, co-funded by the CPP, explored advances at the interface between academic and industry research. The scientific organisers included two CPP partners alongside academic leaders in the field (read the interview with one of the organisers Gerard Drewes here and check out the winning posters here).

Building mutually beneficial relationships

The strong involvement of EMBL scientists at all levels is another crucial factor in enabling the CPP to establish and develop mutually beneficial relationships with its corporate partners. The alliance of the CPP with its corporate partners is one facet of EMBL’s engagement with industry – in particular the life sciences business sector. This compliments the activities of EMBL’s technology transfer partner EMBLEM, the EMBL Course and Conference Office, the EMBL-EBI Industry Programme, and direct interactions with industry partners by EMBL group and team leaders and heads of core facilities.

With two new partners joining the CPP in 2019 and another already this year, the CPP has grown to 19 members, bringing together EMBL and global leaders in a range of business sectors, including biopharmaceuticals, diagnostics, information technology, research and clinical instrumentation, and laboratory products.

Members of the EMBL ATC Corporate Partnership Programme

We look forward to seeing the programme continue to evolve and grow in future years, always striving to deliver outstanding value and maintain its impact on the future of science.

For further information, contact Jonathan Rothblatt (jonathan.rothblatt@embl.de, +49 6221 387 8799), or visit embl.org/cpp.

This article was originally published in Issue 95 of EMBLetc. magazine.

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Designing training using competencies

The European project team was initiated in the EMBL-EBI training team to build training frameworks on pan-European projects funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Some of these projects include BioExcel, CINECA and EOSC Life, featuring EMBL-EBI as an active partner co-leading on training activities, secondments and best practices to deliver project goals. The training programme often includes a mix of face-to-face and remote courses, webinars and a range of online tutorials developed from a competency-based needs analysis.

Supporting biomolecular scientists

Competency mapper is an online tool developed by the EMBL-EBI training team using the BioExcel competency framework as a primary use case, to support professionals working in biomolecular sciences. Documenting competencies allows course providers to assess the effectiveness of their training model and obtain a better understanding of trainee needs.

Front page of the competency mapper website featuring projects
The new look of the competency mapper website

In the initial phase, the competency mapper was designed to map existing courses to identify significant gaps within training programmes. With its diverse potential, the tool has expanded into the area of career development where individual professionals can create profiles, document their competencies and seek further training to fill gaps in their portfolio.

In the future, learning pathways with curated sets of training resources will be added to achieve specific development goals. As this tool is currently in the early stages of development, the team are seeking feedback to improve and adapt to fit community needs.

If you have comments or suggestions, please contact the team at competency@ebi.ac.uk.

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Meet the EMBL Events Team: Charlotte

This week we meet Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI. Charlotte manages a team of eight events, marketing and administrative staff who work on the EMBL-EBI training programme.

This is a picture of Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI
Charlotte Pearton, Events Lead at EMBL-EBI

At EMBL-EBI since: 2015
Number of events organised:
39

Favourite place in the Hinxton area?
The campus is beautiful. The woodland paths are great to walk through in all seasons, but especially autumn.  In summer, the flowerbeds are a real burst of colour.

Across EMBL, the events teams have been facing the challenge of virtualising their work and events. 

What are the differences in organising a virtual course compared to the usual face-to-face format?
Firstly there was the timeframe! We had to put a structure together very quickly. Also how to adjust the content to make it workable and engaging, and how to maintain good comms and networking. Our first virtual course was a great success and we will continue to build on this experience; we are embracing the challenge.

How have you adapted your role during lockdown?
I have maintained a daily structure and routine.  I am in almost constant contact with the team via Slack, Zoom etc. We have all become increasingly proficient in the art of the on-line meeting over the last few months!

What is the first thing you do before a course starts:
I’ll run through my checklist of preparatory tasks, make a note of anything I need to remember, take a deep breath, a sip of coffee, and also some comfort in the fact that our events are a real team effort and I’m not in this alone!

And how about the first thing you’ll do after a course finishes?
At the end of each course, I enjoy the sense of job satisfaction. I love the cyclical nature of events, at our face-to-face events I love waving people off knowing they have had a great experience.  You really build a rapport with your speakers and delegates – it starts months before they arrive, then really develops during the week they are actually with you on campus.  By the time they leave you can really feel the sense of warmth and genuine appreciation.  It’s a great indicator of our success.

That is something we are still finding with the virtual courses I am pleased to say. Even if the wave goodbye at the end of the course is now through Zoom!

If you weren’t a course organiser what would you be?
A world-famous author of fiction… probably something dark like crime or horror, and writing under a pseudonym to keep an air of mystery! In reality, I’ve always veered towards events in an educational field.

What is the strangest/funniest thing that has ever happened in a course?
We organised a ‘sabrage’ to celebrate 10 years of training – seeing Cath (Brooksbank, Head of Training) wielding a sword to slice the top off a bottle of champagne outside the training rooms isn’t something you see every day. It was great fun.

Cath Brooksbank wields a sword to cut the top off a bottle of champagne at an event to celebrate 10 years of the EMBL-EBI Training programme
Cath Brooksbank at the ‘sabrage’

If you were a superhero, what power would you like to have?
Teleportation! An early morning walk on the beach in the Seychelles, fine dining and shopping in Paris in the afternoon, party all night in New York.  Green travel!

And finally what is your favourite book or film?
I couldn’t choose a favourite book or film very easily, but I did revisit a 2008 documentary recently which always has me gripping the sofa – ‘Man on a Wire’. The story of Phillippe Petit, who tight-roped across the US twin towers in 1974. Just a fascinating story on many levels – watch if you dare!

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