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Informatics to drive clinical trials in UK

Scotland’s chief scientist says NHS data can support medicines research

Andrew Morriss chief scientist Scotland

Improved data collection and usage could help improve the UK's standings in clinical trial research, according to a leading health researcher.

Dr Andrew Morris, dean of the college of medicine at the University of Dundee and Scotland's chief scientist, said that effective informatics could help overturn some of the loss in the UK's share of clinical trials, which a decade ago stood at 10 per cent of all phase III medicine research throughout the world, but now accounts for less than 2 per cent.

“We need to sharpen our game up if we're going to be a pre-eminent country for research,” he said, referencing the rise of countries such as India and China in the clinical trial field.

It was a comment that raised a similar point to chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies' comments at the ABPI conference in November 2012 that NHS data is integral to ensuring the UK's future in clinical research.

Dr Morris (pictured) is helping to address this issue in Scotland through his work with Diabetes Audit and Research in Tayside Scotland (DARTS), which keeps track of the data of more than 7,000 people living with diabetes in Scotland.

This data allows doctors real time information about the health of each individual patient, helping to both improve patient outcomes and to provide an attractive database for researchers looking to test a new therapy due to both its size and the potential to set up trials in a quick, efficient manner.

In order for such a dataset to be developed, research must be integrated into care, said Dr Morris, with most patients willing to give permission if approached by their doctor.

“Every patient we see, we know if they've consented to participate in research, so we've got a list of people who are willing to help us out.”

The success of DARTS has seen its creators work with the government in Kuwait to develop a similar database for its diabetes patients.

There are still limits in informatics, with Dr Morris acknowledging that the size of data can be overwhelming, meaning computer science should be an integral part of any approach to such large-scale data collection.

Legal problems can also arise, and healthcare systems looking to collect patient data should be careful to maintain public trust and keep inside current laws for data governance.

15th March 2013

From: Research, Healthcare

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