UK Biobank, a biomedical database of half a million volunteers’ genetic and health information, has raised £32m ($38.8m) in a government-backed philanthropy effort. Former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt and Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin have donated $10m each, which is matched by the UK government.
The programme started in 2006 with half a million volunteers from across the country. They are now contacted regularly to get qualitative and quantitative data about their health, enabling researchers who are given access to the data to understand the connections between lifestyle, genetics and disease.
The money is not yet allocated, but it may be used to develop AI capacities for the project. That the government press release should reference this in particular is salient as the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is currently pushing to sell the UK as a global AI hub. Late last week Sunak announced the AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission, an £100m investment in AI aiming to discover therapies for previously incurable ailments.
In a comment to Pharmaceutical Technology, Chief Scientist at UK Biobank Naomi Allen said: “The £32m investment will be used to pilot some ambitious new study enhancements, including bringing as many participants back to do the baseline tests they did at the beginning again, piloting the use of wearable technology and health apps to collect physical health and sleep data in real-time and investing in new AI tools.
AI can use patients’ digital histopathology data to find patterns on the specific type of tumour a cancer patient has, and will play an important role in helping to find patterns in the data that are so far overlooked.”
The charity already claims to be the most in-depth health resource in the world, and the new funding will complement a £127.6m government grant earlier this year that will allow it to move to a new facility.
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According to UK Biobank CEO Prof. Rory Collins, over 9,000 peer-reviewed papers have come from the Biobank’s data, “including studies looking into cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, tinnitus and heart disease.”
Interest in artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector has skyrocketed in the past four years, becoming the most valuable technology theme by deal value again in 2022 after a brief stint at the top in 2020. This year over $100bn has already been spent on deals relating to AI, approaching double last year’s spend.
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