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by Dominic Tyer
A new UK e-health project aims to identify more effective treatments for conditions such as diabetes and cancer by combining clinical, social and research data from electronic health records.
New e-health research Centres of Excellence in London, Manchester, Dundee and Swansea will use patient data sets available through the government's new £60m Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD).
The CPRD was launched in March promising to give life sciences companies unprecedented access to large sets of anonymised NHS patient data and the Centres are to act as a vital contact point for industry, the NHS and policy makers.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Thanks to the NHS and the UK's world-leading research base, we are uniquely positioned to use patient data to study disease and develop better treatments.
“The e-health centres are the first of their kind and have the potential to revolutionise health research. They will provide a vital insight into conditions affecting millions of people and ultimately bring benefits for patients.”
The project will also see a new network formed around the Centres to encourage wider collaboration between UK and international researchers and make sure there are effective links between different types of health and social data sets.
The four e-health centres will open later this year and are being funded by a consortium of 10 UK government and charity backers, including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, said: ”This is a watershed moment for data research and for the Medical Research Council, which I believe will deliver the benefits of e-health research, improving patient care over the coming years. The way in which the partner organisations have come together to invest in e-health underpins its importance and will help establish the UK as a world leader in this field.”
They will investigate a wide range of conditions that have an important impact on health in the UK, including diabetes and obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and child and maternal health.
The project also aims to improve drug safety, assess risks to public health and study the causes of diseases and disability.
The CPRD online research service is the world's largest computerised database of anonymised longitudinal medical records from primary care that is linked with other healthcare data.
Seeking to head off potential criticism of using public data in this way the MRC said the new Centres will “play an active role in engaging with the public to promote better understanding of the benefits of e-health records research”.
“Public understanding of the importance of using health data for research is crucial to advancing drug discovery and improving patient care,” the MRC noted.