UK’s second life sciences sector deal tackles ageing and early diagnostics

Researchers in the UK will collect a range of data from five million healthy volunteers to develop diagnostic tests using AI and other cutting-edge technologies to detect and diagnose diseases earlier in a study thought to be the largest of its kind.

The new programme was unveiled in a new deal between the UK government and the life sciences sector, backed by more than £1.3bn of investment, announced at the beginning of December.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, will lead the Accelerating Detection of Disease initiative, which will see experts look into how the health of a group of participants changes over time to identify common characteristics that would help them understand how and why diseases develop.

“In years gone by, the idea of eliminating smallpox, managing HIV or curing Hepatitis C seemed impossible and yet we are living in an age where the risks associated with these diseases have been either eliminated or greatly reduced.

“The programme announced today will set us on the path to new medical breakthroughs, innovative treatments, and longer lives, cutting down suffering in the future,” the professor wrote in a recent blog.

The study will also support the delivery of the Early Diagnosis Mission, part of the UK Industrial Strategy’s AI and Data Grand Challenge. Businesses will be able to access the £79m in funding that the government is pledging for the programme through competitions managed by UK Research and Innovation.

“The project will support research, early diagnosis, prevention and treatment across the major diseases, including cancer, dementia and heart disease.

“This will be a ground-breaking national health programme that will develop new diagnostic tests through applying leading-edge AI and other cutting-edge technologies. It will attract additional global investment from the sector,” according to the Office for Life Sciences and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Other announcements include a commitment from global biopharmaceutical company UCB to invest £1bn in R&D in the UK over the next five years. A new £150-200m R&D facility will be built, supporting around 650 jobs, mainly in scientific research and early manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Roche will also invest a further £30m in the UK, with £20m over the next three years in a precision cancer research partnership with the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

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