In 2019 AI Digital was engaged by the Wellcome Sanger Institute to provide the project management for ground-breaking public health and global genomics project.

The project was to conduct the genetic sequencing of 450,000 UK Biobank volunteer participants by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the largest single contribution to the gold standard sequence of the human genome, and in association with deCODE Genetics based in Iceland.

The £200m project was the single most ambitious sequencing programme in the world, involving the UK government, Wellcome Trust, and four leading pharmaceutical companies. The project was to provide a game-changing resource to the global scientific community to understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent life-changing diseases such as cancer and dementia.

The total amount of genetic data generated, roughly equivalent to around 5000 billion pages of text, requires unique technical expertise to store and analyse. The result was an encyclopaedia of genetic information, linked with comprehensive clinical characterisation, that will help to provide a unique insight into why some people develop particular diseases and others do not.

Working in conjunction with Sanger’s senior management and internal delivery teams, the challenge for AI Digital was to design and implement the project management framework and governance which allowed Sanger to focus on the core technical and scientific challenges, whilst at the same time allowing the project to meet its contractual, service and operational commitments.

The scale of the technical and scientific challenges for this project were significant which meant the project needed to handle a range of complex technical, production, supply chain, commercial and logistical issues, whilst ensuring a robust approach to financial and commercial management.


Project Approach

AI Digital built a project plan and operational governance to meet the needs of the project, working closely with Sanger’s senior management and operations teams. It was also important to build close working relationships with a number of key commercial partners.

The project was structured into seven separate workstreams with identified Leads responsible for ensuring the project’s products and deliverables were produced to an appropriate quality, timescale, and at a cost acceptable to the Project Steering Board. This provided a framework for tackling the complex scientific and technical challenges faced by the project.

Key to the success of the project was the close working relationship between the various commercial and technical delivery partners.


The Result

Within three months the Wellcome Sanger Institute successfully mobilised its genomics sequencing facilities and resources to commence whole-genome sequencing. It was also able to establish a robust sequencing pipeline capable of meeting and indeed exceeding the demanding delivery schedule.


In 2019 the Wellcome Sanger Institute was jointly awarded, with deCODE genetics of Iceland, a contract to sequence 450,000 whole human genomes held by the UK Biobank. Jointly funded by government, charity and industry, it is the biggest endeavour of its kind ever undertaken and will transform the way in which scientists study health. AI Digital was brought in to support us with programme management services as we rapidly up-scaled our sequencing and data processing facilities, as well as deploying cloud computing technology at a scale not seen before within the Institute. The successful implementation of the project is a testament to the close working relationships they built across the organisation.

Cordelia Langford, Director of Scientific Operation
Wellcome Sanger Institute