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December 22, 2020

Novo Nordisk Foundation awards DKK 138 million under its new data science and artificial intelligence initiative

Data science and artificial intelligence are important drivers in modern research and are essential for developing such areas as new climate solutions and pioneering health technologies. The Novo Nordisk Foundation has just awarded grants for the first 12 projects under its new major Data Science Initiative.

How do bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics? A new collaboration between researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Bielefeld University in Germany will focus on this question.

The researchers will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to construct an advanced calculation model for discovering and monitoring the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in, for example, our gut system and thereby create important new knowledge on these processes. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are one of the greatest global threats to health. About 700,000 people worldwide die every year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

Another project will focus on how to utilize the wealth of data in Denmark’s health registries without compromising patients’ anonymity and privacy. In the project, researchers from Copenhagen, Odense, Aarhus and Aalborg will collaborate on creating new advanced research infrastructure. This will enable students and researchers to access synthetic data – an anonymized version of the actual health data – and thereby create new knowledge and optimize the education and training of a new generation of clinical data scientists.

These projects are two of the 12 projects that have just received grants under the Foundation’s new Data Science Initiative.

“Data science is an important driver in all modern research. Society and the research community definitely need more specialists in this area, and with this initiative we want to contribute to Denmark being at the forefront of development – also 10 years from now,” says Birgitte Nauntofte, CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The Data Science Initiative comprises three programmes that collectively support the establishment of ambitious research within data science. This will be carried out by establishing national infrastructure and research collaborations and through a research leader programme that will create a very attractive career path and will help to educate and train additional specialists in this area. A total of DKK 138 million has been awarded, and the 12 grants are distributed as follows.

  • DKK 65.5 million awarded for eight Investigator Grants, a programme for research group leaders. Each researcher is receiving a grant of up to DKK 10 million.
  • DKK 45 million awarded for ambitious collaborative research between data scientists or between data scientists and researchers in other scientific areas, which collectively will create synergy in research that would not have been possible individually.
  • DKK 27.9 million awarded for two projects within research infrastructure. The funding is for establishing and developing world-class national infrastructure within data science (such as supercomputers, hardware, databases and technical personnel).

Lack of talented graduates
In 2019, the Foundation established the Data Science Initiative, the Foundation’s new grant programme within data science and artificial intelligence. The Initiative stemmed from the lack of data scientists in both the public and private sectors and because understanding data management is instrumental for advances within all scientific areas. Data scientists work at the interface between areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, mathematics and statistics and with large volumes of data in close collaboration with experts behind the accessible data. Data scientists are thereby often key to improving understanding of complex problems and are therefore sought after in Denmark’s research and innovation communities and in the business world.

“The Data Science Initiative puts data science at the centre in its own right instead of the common way of viewing it as a support function for other research areas. We are doing this because appropriate resources and attention can unleash the enormous potential of this research area in sustainability, disease control and other areas. The Initiative has attracted great interest, and we look forward to receiving even more exciting applications when next year’s application rounds open soon,” says Lene Oddershede, Senior Vice President, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

In addition to the programmes mentioned above, the Foundation is working to enable the establishment of a national Data Science Academy next year, which will focus on creating a strong national network within these disciplines by creating meetings and courses and awarding scholarships to PhD students and fellowships to postdoctoral fellows.

The 12 grants are just the start of the Foundation’s special focus on data science research. A committee of prominent international experts with expertise in data science research has been established, and over the next 2 years the committee members will continue to receive and evaluate project proposals submitted for the three programmes. The 2021 programmes will open in late December 2020.

The Foundation has allocated DKK 410 million so far to the Data Science Initiative in 2020–2022 for funding in open competition.

Read more about the Data Science Initiative here.

The 12 grant recipients

Recipients of Data Science Investigator Grants

Grants are awarded to research group leaders at different career stages. Grants will be awarded to young talented researchers at the early establishment stage; research group leaders at the intermediate career stage; and established professors at a high international level.

  • Julius Kirkegaard, postdoctoral fellow, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Differentiable Physical Models for Data Analysis in Biology: DKK 7,202,086
  • Bulat Ibragimov, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Copenhagen, Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis, Treatment Planning and Treatment Outcome Prediction: DKK 7,879,373
  • Tugce Karaderi, Assistant Professor, Center for Health Data Science, University of Copenhagen, Data Science Approaches to Study Epidemiological and Genetic Underpinnings of Hypothyroidism to Pave the Way for Precision Medicine: DKK 9,175,424
  • Martin Andersen, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Technical University of Denmark, Scalable Optimization for Data Science: DKK 7,702,145
  • Anders Hviid, Senior Researcher, Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens Serum Institut, Identifying Heterogeneous Treatment Effects with Machine Learning: DKK 9,052,063
  • Gabriel Renaud, Associate Professor, Department of Health Technology, Technical University of Denmark, Ancient Genomes Reconstruction: DKK 7,950,623
  • Susanne Ditlevsen, Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Statistical Inference for Coupled Stochastic Processes with Multiple Timescales and Changing Environments: DKK 8,195,513
  • Niels Richard Hansen, Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, CLUE: Causal Learning for Unstructured Events: DKK 8,409,592

Recipients of grants for collaborative research

These grants are awarded to major research collaborations and ambitious projects.

  • Ole Winther, Professor, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Center for Basic Machine Learning Research in Life Science: DKK 29,984,002. Co-applicants: Aasa Feragen-Hauberg, Søren Hauberg, Jes Frellsen (Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Technical University of Denmark), Anders Krogh and Wouter Boomsma (Department of Computer Science, University of Copenhagen)
  • Søren Sørensen, Professor, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Machine Learning Methods for Data-driven Discovery of Antibiotic Resistance Plasmid Dissemination and Evolution: DKK 14,983,392. Co-applicants: Simon Rasmussen (Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, University of Copenhagen) and Alexander Sczyrba (Center for Biotechnology, Bielefeld University, Germany)

Recipients of grants for establishing research infrastructure

These grants are for world-class national infrastructure within data science (such as supercomputers, hardware, databases and technical personnel).

  • Anders Krogh, Professor, Center for Health Data Science, University of Copenhagen, National Health Data Science Sandbox for Training and Research: DKK 17,764,483
  • Gitte Moos Knudsen, Professor, Neurobiology Research Unit, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, The OpenNeuroPET Archive – A Molecular Neuroimaging Archive: DKK 10,144,473

Further information

Morten Bache, Senior Scientific Lead, MBA@novo.dk

Christian Mostrup, Senior Programme Lead, Communications, +45 3067 4805, cims@novo.dk