Some things in life sciences are essential. UniProt, for example, is a world reference resource for protein sequence and function, which receives over 900,000 requests per month. Its expert curated section is mainly maintained and developed by SIB’s Swiss-Prot Group.

Unfortunately, even such an essential resource is threatened by short-term financing. In the case of UniProt, with the exception of the funds allocated by the Swiss government since 1998, it relies on several short-term grants originating from the US or the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). Every few years, the fate of this essential source of knowledge is therefore at stake, being funded much like any post-doc research project.

This problem is a global one: over 60% of life science databases in the world have less than one year of funding assured. In March, we announced that a global coalition set out to tackle this issue. Managers of key data resources, including SIB, and leaders of funding organizations have joined forces to sustain core data resources.

Instead of fragmented sources of funding, as is the case today, funds should be channelled through a common international pot. This is, in essence, the recent proposal made by the Global Life Sciences Data Resources (GLSDR) coalition to the Heads of International Research Organizations (HIROs) gathered in London on 7 June.

Such a model would ensure the sustainability of resources essential for life sciences by uniting funders in a shared and coordinated international effort. It was developed during a two-day workshop, where SIB and the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) represented Switzerland.

The proposal was welcomed very positively by the HIROs. Provided that funders and/or countries endorse it, next steps involve selecting, out of several hundreds, those data resources, which are truly ‘core’ for the life sciences. This selection will rely on several indicators, including those developed by SIB together with the EBI last year.

Once defined, the current funding status and needs of these core resources will be assessed, with the aim to become coordinated through shared international efforts – thereby ensuring their long-term survival.

“Such a proposal coming to reality would be nothing short of a revolution for data resource management,” says Ron Appel, SIB Executive Director.

Read more in our March announcement “SIB is part of a global coalition to sustain core data resources”