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New £79m AI Project to Boost Detection of Diseases in Updated Sector Deal

on Friday, 08 February 2019.

The UK Government has published its second life sciences sector deal, updating the first from 2017. In its update, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy together with the Office for Life Sciences have underscored what was offered...

...in the first life sciences sector deal, as well as adding detail on some new projects.

Its key ideas in the update include the following:

Health Advanced Research Programme

The first sector deal had announced that the Health Advanced Research Programme (HARP) would be established to pursue "moon shots" in health-focussed research. The update has committed additional financing for the HARP programme, including:

  • £79m from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to be used on an Artificial Intelligence initiative to accelerate the detection of disease by studying five million healthy people to develop new diagnostic tests and observe them.
  • A plan to sequence a further one million whole genomes within the next five years, as a follow-on from Genomics England completing the first 100,000 sequencing in its 100,000 Genomes Project.
  • A £50m investment in digital pathology.

Clinical Trials

The Government has committed to improving the speed and efficiency of clinical trials. This will involve:

  • Establishing five centres for late-phase commercial research.
  • Encouraging NHS Trusts and GP practices to identify trial participants.
  • Addressing challenges in NHS workforce resourcing to deliver commercial research.

Research and Development

The Government has announced a desire to increase UK Research & Development spending and output. This includes:

  • A commitment to spend 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027.
  • The Government’s further investment in life sciences of £1.6bn.
  • Setting a target to treble industry R&D spend in the NHS to over £900m.

Better Transport Links

£20m towards developing the rail network in the northern edge of the Golden Triangle, between Oxford and Cambridge.

Regulation

A desire for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority to be a forward-thinking regulator following Brexit and support advanced therapies through a regulatory pathway for genomic medicines and tests.

The £79m project on the Artificial Intelligence initiative is particularly exciting. This has been unveiled as a "world-first". The project will involve a partnership between the NHS and life sciences businesses and charities, including the Alzheimer's Research UK, British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. Five million people will be monitored to see how their health changes over time, to help researchers better understand how and why disease develops. Professor Sir John Bell, who has led the Government's life sciences strategy, will lead the project.

Professor Sir John commented: "This mammoth undertaking will be the biggest study of its kind, using artificial intelligence and other new technologies to diagnose diseases earlier. If we can detect illnesses like cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease before symptoms present, we can open doors to transform treatment and save lives. It is this kind of revolutionary work which will help people get their right treatment before they get ill, and it is my ambition that this will give more of us, more years of healthy life."

Comment

Brexit poses challenges for the UK's life sciences sector, but this renewal of the life sciences sector deal showcases where the UK can lead the way in a post-Brexit world, including through expansion of the UK's pioneering work on sequencing genomes and using AI to better understand and treat disease. This can help to continue to attract business and researchers to the UK, whatever happens after Brexit.


Do you have any thoughts on this new sector deal, and what the opportunities are for AI and genomics? Please share your thoughts with Paul Gershlick in our Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences team on 01923 919 320.

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