U.K.'s Medical Research Council commits $52M to medical record bioinformatics

Over the past two years, the British government has unveiled a series of genomics and bioinformatics initiatives intended to revive its ailing biopharma industry. The rollout continued this week with news of $52 million in funding for 5 bioinformatics projects run by British research institutes.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) made the investments from its $147 million Big Data fund. Having committed $33 million to the United Kingdom's first health informatics research institute in July, MRC has now invested a total of $85 million in a series of initiatives focused on linking biological data to medical records. The University of Leeds secured the second biggest slice of initial funding, more than $9 million, to help researchers identify new drug targets by analyzing genomics data and health records.

University of Leeds--Courtesy of Neil Turner, Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

Production of such data sets is central to the 100K Genome Project. While the initiative is not mentioned directly in the MRC release, there is a clear overlap between its funding targets and the IT capabilities the National Health Service will need to make best use of genomics data. From later this year biopharma researchers can buy access to pseudonymized medical records, some of which will be linked to genome data from patients with rare diseases and cancer between now and 2017.

Advocates of the data-selling plan talk up its potential to enable medical breakthroughs, but many people are concerned about the privacy implications. This week it was revealed that the police will have access to health records for serious crime investigations, even if the person targeted has opted out of the database. "The idea that police will be able to request information from a central database without a warrant totally undermines a long-held belief in the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship," conservative politician David Davis told The Guardian.

- here's the MRC release
- check out the Leeds news
- read the Guardian article