Reviewing the role and contributions of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Genome Campus
An evaluation of the contributions of the Wellcome Sanger Institute found that it acts as a leader in genetics and genomics research and international collaborations, shaped by the institute’s specific values and ethos around openness, data sharing and collaboration.
What is the issue?
The Sanger institute was established to deliver insight into human and pathogen biology, and is located on the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, UK along with a number of research organisations focusing on genomics and computational biology. Wellcome invests a significant amount of funding into the Sanger Institute, the Wellcome Genome Campus and other initiatives that support research and dissemination at the campus.
To inform Wellcome’s strategic thinking, RAND Europe was commissioned to provide an overview of how the Sanger Institute and Wellcome Genome Campus contribute to the field of genetics and genomics, and how this compared to similar organisations working in the field. This review also presents important developments in genetics and genomics that have influenced and will continue to influence the field going forward.
How did we help?
We conducted a landscape review covering the academic contributions of Sanger, as well as the wider translational, communication, networking and commercialisation activities associated with the Sanger Institute and the Wellcome Genome Campus. We compared these contributions to that of four comparator organisations: Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics (WHG), Janelia Research Campus, the Broad Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
The report included a detailed consideration of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that the Sanger Institute and Wellcome-funded elements within the Genome Campus face.
What did we find?
The Sanger Institute’s contributions were categorised into the following areas:
- Areas of key research contributions e.g. understanding somatic mutation and its role in cancer and other diseases.
- Outputs and impact across these research areas e.g. publications (4,720 articles in the last 10 years and c.335,000 citations)
- Broader contributions e.g. contributions to training and development, including in low to middle income countries
We found that Sanger acts as a leader in genetics and genomics research and international collaborations, alongside other key actors such as the Broad Institute. The flavour and direction of this leadership is shaped by the Sanger Institute’s specific values and ethos around openness, data sharing and collaboration. The Sanger Institute also contributes to genetics and genomics indirectly through other organisations and actors that use research conducted at Sanger and by partner institutions at the Wellcome Genome Campus.
The main takeaways from comparing the contributions of the Sanger Institute with similar organisations were:
- Training and capacity building: The Sanger Institute provides training and capacity building through its multiple formal and more informal partnership-based training offers. NHGRI also emphasises training, in part reflecting its dual role as government agency and funder as well as research institution, alongside WHG’s role as a university department.
- Leadership: The Sanger Institute offers research at the scale needed to take on leadership roles on large-scale international consortia, as do NHGRI and the Broad Institute. The evidence suggests all three institutions have taken these leadership positions individually and collectively over time. Sanger has also undertaken a convening role for networks of smaller actors, too, using its scale to bring actors together in both the UK and LMICs.
- Datasets and tools: Another key contribution made by Sanger is the profusion of open access datasets and tools brought to the research field – though we also see strong contributions of this nature from comparator organisations, such as the imaging resources made available by Janelia Research Campus.
- Commercialisation: Sanger’s focus on commercialisation has not been as strong as in other organisations – notably the Broad Institute – but other routes to translation have been emphasised, particular the strong ethos of openness and data sharing.
- Disciplinary strengths: Sanger has strong disciplinary strengths in the core area of genetics and heredity, with comparable citation levels to key comparators such as the Broad Institute and NHGRI. Two particular areas where the Sanger Institute outperforms these two closest comparators (in terms of subject matter) on the level of citation are biochemistry and molecular biology, and infectious diseases.
Currently, there is a challenge for Sanger and other organisations working in genetics and genomics in that high throughput sequencing, a core strength of large organisations such as the Sanger Institute, does not offer the same competitive advantage as in the past, as this technology has become more widely available in recent years.
The next challenge will be to find a direction for these organisations to explore that fits with their scale, operating environments, unique strengths and values. In the case of Sanger, this means finding an approach that capitalises on their ethos of openness, data sharing and collaboration to shape the development of the field over the coming years.