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May 24, 2013

Biotech Gets a Boost With New UK Big Data Institute

Isaac Lopez

Big data in biotech got a big boost this month when a partnership between the UK government and Chinese philanthropist Li Ka-Shing converged to drop £30 million on the University of Oxford to fund the creation of the Big Data Institute at the Li Ka Shing Center for Health Information and Discovery.

The deal, which saw £20 million coming from Li Ka-Shing, and £10 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will fund the construction and staffing of the Big Data Institute as part of a two phase effort, part of which is already underway.

The first phase, currently under construction, is the Target Discovery Institute, which is aimed at investigating drug target discovery across various diseases through the alphabet soup of advance biology disciplines, including genetics and genomic medicine, molecular and cell biology, structural biology, chemistry pharmacology and medicine.

The second phase of the project, The Big Data Institute, will be a storing, processing, and analytics house for enormous amounts of anonymized health data, including electronic patient records, DNA sequencing, comprehensive biological data on disease mechanism, treatment monitoring, clinical trials, pharmacy records, medical imaging, and national registries of hospitalizations, cancers, and other outcomes.

Together, both centers will comprise the Li Ka Shing Center for Health Information and Discovery, which is expected to house 600 scientists when completed.

The knighted Sir Ka-Shing Li said of the development, “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. And it will lead to new and deeper competencies that are pragmatic – precise solutions to sustain hope and stability today and lead to even greater discoveries tomorrow.”

Altogether, the center will focus on a number of health related initiatives, including data mining from patient records, genomic medicine research, disease surveillance (such as mapping the emergence of drug resistances or tracking the spread of infections), and using and developing high throughput, automated approaches to speed the drug discovery process.

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