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Big data can improve health outcomes, say experts

Out-Law News | 20 Nov 2013 | 12:42 pm | 2 min. read

Harnessing the potential in 'big data' can help pharmaceutical companies cut the time and money they spend bringing new drugs to market and improve health outcomes for the public, two experts have said.

Technology law expert Matthew Godfrey-Faussett and specialist in life sciences Allistair Booth of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the "exponential growth" in the volume of data being generated allied to the advancements in data analytics tools can used to drive improvements in health care and efficiencies within the sector. The experts were commenting just days before the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) hosts an event looking at the potential for big data to improve health outcomes.

Earlier this month the Personal Genome Project UK (PGP-UK) was launched in an effort to find 100,000 volunteers willing to allow their DNA information to be added to a new publicly accessible database. Volunteers are being asked to waive their privacy rights in return for what the programme operators say would be their "valuable and lasting contribution to science".

Godfrey-Faussett said that the PGP-UK initiative was one example of the attempt to improve the accessibility of health information to scientific researchers and added that growing the amount of data available and improving the tools for analysing the information would have health benefits.

"If you are to get real value from big data in a health environment, you need to marry ever increasing volumes of data with increasingly sophisticated IT tools that will generate better insights to be gleaned from that information," Godfrey-Faussett said. "The analysis and manipulation of big data also enables the creation of new, more focused databases that can themselves be used for reference purposes and the identification of trends."

"As populations become more mobile and geographic borders decrease in relevance, it becomes increasingly important for health care providers to be able to access the data that they will require in order to prepare for and treat discrete populations as their presence in the UK grows in response to the expansion of the EU or civil wars and natural disasters of the type currently plaguing Syria and the Philippines," he said. "The ability to analyse pools of big data specific to those populations should in future aid health services to plan more effectively for situations such as the current rapid growth of the Roma community in Sheffield and elsewhere in the UK."

"Similarly, increasing access to big data associated with lifestyle choices, education and social conditioning must have an important part to play in reducing the ever increasing growth in diseases such as Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes" Godfrey-Faussett added.

The process for improving health care will also involve in many cases the development of new, improved drugs. Booth said that putting big data into practice has the possibility to cut the time it takes biomedical researchers to conduct clinical trials and therefore reduce the costs involved in launching new drugs.

"Increasing the amount of data that is available to researchers in the life sciences industry could potentially allow clinical trials to be better targeted to involve more specific kinds of people and allow greater confidence to be derived from clinical trials data," Booth said. "Potentially the data could then be used to inform decision-making on sister trials and provide for increasing reliability on the data gathered from research. This process has the potential to cut the time it takes to run clinical trials and therefore reduce the time and costs involved in bringing new drugs to market."

Booth added that researchers may also potentially benefit from effective harnessing of data and technology through the accessing of information on failed projects. This may enable the companies to avoid wasting time by testing the same candidate molecules previously tested during their own research, he said.