Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 08, 2013

Oxford Launches $140M Big Data Drug Discovery Initiative

Alzheimer's takes at least 15 years to develop, and by the time symptoms appear it is generally too late to reverse. The condition is marked by the buildup of a sticky protein clump called amyloid plaque in the brain. Although pharmaceuticals have spent more than $30 billion researching this plaque in the brain, they are still having difficulties coming up with a drug that is showing promise.

Researchers believe new methods of study could save billions of dollars in trial and errors by using Big Data and all of its potential. The U.K. government and one of the richest individuals in the world, Li Ka Shing, are combining their efforts for a £90 million or almost $140 million initiative in Big Data and drug discovery.

The Li Ka Shing Center for Health Information and Discovery is being built in two phases, housing around 600 scientists when the project is completed. The first phase, which has been completed, is the Target Discovery Institute. It houses research that generates data about disease using genomic and chemical screens. The second phase is the Big Data Institute, and when it is completed it will be used to develop ways in which to generate, store and analyze large datasets for understanding human disease and ways in which to treat it.

The Target Discovery Institute also has the collaboration of some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world including: Pfizer, J&J, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline Plc., Novartis AG, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, AbbVie Inc. and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., who have contributed $8 million towards the Institute. The collaboration of the companies points out the importance of using Big Data to understand the mechanism of many of the diseases affecting humankind in a more efficient and economical way.

As Chas Bountra, a drug discovery expert and head of the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford, said, "Drug discovery is incredibly expensive, incredibly long-term and incredibly risky."

The goal of this center is to develop drugs that target the right biological pathways and start developing medicines that can have positive effects on these targets.

"The new Li Ka Shing Center will pioneer new advances in the analysis of medical data which can help scientists to better understand human disease and its treatment. This will help to further develop a strong and competitive science and research base in this country which is vital for the U.K. to compete and thrive in the global race," said David Cameron at the launching ceremony.

Going through the large amounts of medical data created every single day in research, DNA sequencing, electronics patients records, biological data on disease mechanisms, treatment monitoring, clinical trials, medical imaging and a multitude of other types of data is extremely complex. The Institute hopes to bring together health related datasets for research so it can be used in an anonymized way to gain insights into why illnesses develop, and possibly find cures for them.

"What will happen here is more than the promise of harnessing the power of a data-intensive revolution to improve health care. The work of this center will identify innovative ways to increase access to health care while lessening the burden of cost. It will free up resources for much needed investments in educational opportunities," Li Ka Shing said.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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