Research into cancer treatments and cures is to be made easier by the creation of a virtual UK tumour bank that was announced this week.
The initiative has been developed by the National Cancer Research Institute - the coordinating body representing the government, the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK and cancer charities. It will get £1 million a year for five years.
Liam O'Toole, director of the NCRI, said: "If we don't do something now, lack of tissue samples could severely slow down the rate of progress."
The project, which will be known as the National Cancer Tissue Resource, will involve a network of tissue acquisition centres. Some of these are likely to be based in key university cancer research centres in an attempt to build on existing resources.
A number of research centres and hospitals already run their own tissue collection banks. But, Dr O'Toole said, there was little coordination and samples varied in quality, size and the amount of data attached to them.
"We're trying to develop a more systematic approach to this on a national level," he said.
The bank will have a national coordination centre that will standardise approaches to protocol, storage, ethics and consent. It will also store information relating to tissue samples.
A bioinformatics hub at the centre of the network will allow scientists to track samples across the UK. It will also link those samples to data on pathology, clinical outcomes and the use of tissues in subsequent experiments.
• John Newton, the new chief executive of the UK Biobank, this week countered claims made by the House of Commons science and technology committee in its report on the MRC that the project to create an anonymous national database of blood and DNA samples and medical histories lacked openness.
In a speech to the committee on Monday, Dr Newton said: "Consultation began three years ago and is continuing."
Recruitment of up to 500,000 volunteers for the Biobank could begin within 18 months.
The database will be used to predict the risk of disease in populations.