U.K. commits £250M to AI lab, seeks industry partners

Westminster Bridge in London at sunset
Westminster Bridge, London. (IakovKalinin)

The U.K. has unveiled plans to invest £250 million ($303 million) in a healthcare artificial intelligence lab in the belief it can help drive advances including the development of new dementia treatments. 

Matt Hancock, the U.K. health secretary, called the investment in AI an “immediate, multimillion-pound cash injection” in a statement to disclose the news. The investment will support the creation of an AI lab that will sit inside NHSX, a new body focused on healthcare digitization, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative.

The government’s attempt to move into AI could expose it to the ongoing war for talent in the sector and its inflationary effect on wages. Talking to the Financial Times, officials downplayed that concern, noting that the lab plans to work with companies, academics and researchers to develop new systems and treatments, rather than compete with them for talent. 

Those collaborations will span a wide range of activities. The statement to disclose the creation of the lab refers to the potential for AI to improve everything from the development of dementia drugs to the forecasting of demand for hospital beds. 

If the AI lab has any effect on dementia drug development, the impact on patients will be years down the line. But the U.K. healthcare service is looking to AI to drive some nearer-term benefits. 

“In the first instance it should help personalize NHS screening and treatments for cancer, eye disease and a range of other conditions, as well as freeing up staff time, and our new NHS AI Lab will ensure the benefits of NHS data and innovation are fully harnessed for patients in this country,” Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said in a statement.

Work is already underway to use AI to improve prediction of cancer survival rates and reduce the number of missed appointments.