Plans to transform the way scientists access health data are being backed by £37 million of Industrial Strategy government investment, to pioneer new, faster treatments for patients and new cures for diseases.
The new centres across the UK – known as Digital Innovation Hubs – will enable scientists and innovators to access data from the NHS, universities and social care to deliver more efficient clinical trials.
They can use the data to answer the most important and complex questions about people’s health in the future.
The centres will make data accessible from some of the UK’s major health providers in one place for the first time, including the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
These will allow experts to research the factors behind many familiar common diseases and identify revealing data trends which may help with finding cures or treatments.
The information will go through a de-identification and encryption process to preserve privacy.
Discussing the initiative, Business Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “Access to anonymised health data has huge potential to allow us to better understand diseases and develop life-saving new drugs and treatments.
“The Digital Innovation Hubs, backed by over £37 million of Industrial Strategy investment, will ensure researchers, innovators and clinicians can access a large quantity of anonymised data responsibly and ethically – allowing them to pioneer new medicines and treatments.
“These hubs are a major part of our modern Industrial Strategy, building on the UK’s world leading life sciences sector and health service to the benefit of researchers, industry and patients.”
The project, led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), aims to improve health and care in the UK in areas like speeding up drug development and giving people faster access to more personalised treatments. It also aims to help in diagnosing diseases earlier and help in wider efforts to find cures and treatments, including for conditions such as cancer.
“It is absolutely crucial that researchers are able to access the NHS’s world-leading anonymised data so they can develop cutting-edge treatments and solutions to some of healthcare’s biggest challenges,” said Health Minister, Nicola Blackwood.
Blackwood continued: “This will mean people can receive new medicines quicker and get more timely diagnoses which will ultimately save lives.
“As part of our Long Term Plan, we are determined to encourage more innovation in the NHS than ever before so patients benefit from the best medicines and technologies.”
A £3 million trial is underway with 10 projects across the UK. In Manchester, patients with already implanted pacemakers and defibrillators will have their health data analysed in real-time to detect signs of deterioration earlier and prevent hospital admissions.
The new centres will be selected through a competition and are expected to be established by the end of this year.
Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “We are excited about the tremendous opportunities that Digital Innovation Hub Programme brings to the future of health research and innovation in the UK. Working closely with UK Research and Innovation, our focus in delivering these new centres of excellence is first and foremost on ensuring that patients reap the rewards and are reassured that all data are used ethically and responsibly.
“The UK has a high energy community that brings together leading health experts, entrepreneurs and data scientists. When combined with the UK’s ability to bring data together from hospitals, patients, public health and laboratories, we can power an open innovation platform that improves the health and care of people living with cancer, diabetes and heart disease and make the UK the place for ethical data research.”