UK needs centralized pool of data to become life sciences leader

Becoming a global leader in life sciences has long been an ambition of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The reasons behind his belief that this is possible include the vast amount of NHS clinical data, the sheer genetic diversity of the country and the academic powerhouses located both in and around the nation’s capital.

Whilst the emergency reaction to COVID-19 is diverting attention away from more strategic endeavours, it has also highlighted the importance of a strong, national life sciences industry. Boris Johnson has had a hand in many developments over the years and so it is undoubtedly a focus area in his role as prime minister.

However, important characteristics such as collaboration and communication are required to achieve this status, according to GlobalData. Not only must an organization be able to facilitate collaboration and communication internally but also with its peers and across industries with healthcare and technology organisations.

Jonathan Cordwell, Principal Health & Social Care Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “We have seen multiple instances of collaboration over the years including the recent announcement of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. Leveraging individual areas of knowledge and expertise is key to the UK becoming a global life sciences hub and competing with those located in the US.”

The sheer quantity of genetically diverse clinical data generated within the UK is highly valuable but this value is only unlocked if it can be accessed and utilized properly. Akin to the challenges faced in the NHS, data interoperability is essential to the success of the life sciences industry, so much so that the Office of Life Sciences recently held a secretive meeting with big pharma and tech companies to discuss the best commercial models for unlocking NHS data.

Cordwell continues: “Whilst there is still a long way to go before we can truly claim nationwide interoperability, industry groups such as INTEROpen and national bodies such as NHSX are actively promoting the adoption of open standards, which will gradually disseminate throughout the country over time.”

Due to the computing power required to sequence a genome, for example, the supporting infrastructure must also be incredibly robust. COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium was recently formed in the US, boasting combined computing power capabilities such as 366 petaflops and 2.8m CPU cores.

Cordwell adds: “Due to the size and complexity of processing genomic data, especially when multiple organizations are involved, large ICT suppliers will be heavily favored to provide a secure supporting infrastructure.”

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