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procedures and standards for different

types of population-based, clinical-oriented

biobanks and biomolecular resources are

regularly updated according to the development

of new standards and requirements.

Moreover, BBMRI-ERIC relies on its common

services, which consist of facilities that provide

expertise and tools. The Common Service ELSI

(ethical, legal and social issues), for example,

ensures the proper consideration of ethical,

legal and societal aspects relevant to

biobanking, especially in relation to cross-

border exchange of human biological resources

and data.

Pooling resources

Using a distributed governance structure,

BBMRI-ERIC facilitates a gateway to access the

biobanks and biomolecular resources of 17 EU

member states and an international organisation,

namely: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic,

Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy,

Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United

Kingdom. Furthermore, Norway, Poland,

Switzerland and Turkey act as observers, along

with IARC/WHO. As a consequence, this makes

BBMRI-ERIC one of the largest research

infrastructures for health research in Europe.

In a first step, enriched data pools will facilitate

the transnational, cross-biobank search for

suitable biospecimens. Thus, the IT-Gateway to

European biobanks will provide a single access

point to the European biobank network and lays


1999, the OECD described biobanks as ‘essential’ for

underpinning the Life Sciences and biotechnology. A

decade later,


magazine identified biobanks as one

of ‘ten ideas changing the world right now’. As interlinked collections

of biological samples and biomedical data, biobanks form a

foundation to modern biomedical research for better understanding

disease mechanisms and the development of novel therapies and

diagnostic tools for common and rare diseases. This is particularly

important for addressing the grand societal challenges regarding the

health of an ageing population but also to better apprehend the role

of the environment and nutrition in human health at large. Europe’s

long tradition of collecting and storing human biospecimens and

associated data, largely through national healthcare systems, calls

for a leading role in building on existing resources and establishing

research infrastructures.

Growing BBMRI

In 2008, the Biobanking and BioMolecular Resources Research

Infrastructure (BBMRI) was one of the first projects entering the

preparatory phase of the European Strategy Forum on Research

Infrastructures (ESFRI). Following the successful completion of the

preparatory project and the commitment of the EU member states to

support this research infrastructure, the European Commission officially

awarded BBMRI the ‘Community legal framework for a European

Research Infrastructure Consortium’ (ERIC) in 2013.

This specific legal form is designed to facilitate the joint establishment

and operation of research infrastructures of European interest. The ERIC

status allows the pulling together of biobanks and biomolecular resources

into a pan-European facility providing access to collections of partner

biobanks and biomolecular resources, as well as their expertise and

services on a non-economic basis.

BBMRI-ERIC aims at facilitating the fair access to quality-defined, human

disease-relevant biological resources, including associated data. This is

undertaken in an efficient, ethically and legally compliant manner by

reducing the fragmentation of the biomedical research landscape through

harmonisation of procedures and by implementing common standards

and by fostering high level collaboration. This will be achieved by defining

criteria for high quality-assured samples and their clinical data to be

provided by members for selected disease entities (cancer) and by

defining the quality of samples and data.

BBMRI-ERIC is part of the ISO/TC 276 Biotechnology committee. The

standard development process ISO/TC 276 Biotechnology is of major

interest to BBMRI-ERIC. This is particularly because this emerging

norm will directly influence the working procedures of European

biobanks, repositories and expert centres connected to BBMRI-ERIC.

Common biobanking and resource services shall guarantee that


H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L



Adopting a gateway for health

Michaela Th Mayrhofer,

senior project manager at BBMRI-ERIC, outlines how

collaboration and sharing resources are helping to unleash the potential of

Europe’s biobanking community

Michaela Th Mayrhofer

BBMRI-ERIC: imagine

the countless

possible applications

for the billions of

biological samples

that are available

from biobanks

across Europe