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Patient data brings in more money

December 9, 2011

One of the big ideas behind the government’s £180 million life sciences funding announcement this week was that industry would be given access to patient data. This already happens in Scotland, which results in increased funding from companies, as PST recently learnt from Dr Paul Wyatt, head of the drug discovery unit at the University of Dundee.

“One of the advantages in Scotland is that there’s a very strong patient database,” Wyatt says. This information creates a better understanding among companies and researchers of the patient population for which they are developing a drug. “Understanding your patient population would make it very attractive to companies,” he adds, “which should make it very attractive to run trials.”

Setting aside the issues of patient confidentiality, which are beyond the scope of this blog, the notion of using NHS data makes sense. As science minister David Willetts said on Monday, data-chomping research in Scotland has led to the reduction of the rate of amputations from diabetes by 70%. It also “reduced the rate of blindness from people with diabetes by 40%,” he added.

These medical advancements are significant, but there is something more profound at work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Monday’s announcement was about economic growth as much as medicine.

Although the prime minister said that the Catalyst Fund “isn’t just a calculation about what’s best for our economy”, one does wonder whether he would have had the idea for it if life sciences was important only for medicine and didn’t also happen to be “a jewel in the crown of our economy”, as Cameron describes it.

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