The UK’s largest health research programme has been officially launched as health authorities, charities and some of the world’s leading life sciences companies combine to create a comprehensive picture of the country’s health.
Our Future Health has welcomed the first members of the public to participate in the scheme with the aim to have 5 million adults involved as the research looks to create a true reflection of the country’s health and future needs.
Researchers from across the entire life sciences community, including academia, industry and the NHS, will be able to apply to study Our Future Health resources for their crucial research. Volunteers’ data will be de-identified and held in ‘trusted research environments’ that meet strict security criteria and an access board, including independent experts and members of the public, will ensure Our Future Health resources are only used for health research in the public interest.
Our Future Health has joined with 16 health research charities that are endorsing the pilot phase of the programme and providing valuable support and experience. These charities have brought their expertise in discovering and developing new methods of early detection and treatment of diseases and health conditions and are helping to develop the programme.
The project has obtained initial funding of £79 million from UK Research and Innovation, the UK Government-funded body that invests in science and research. This funding is being used to set up and begin to deliver the programme. Our Future Health also has NHSX AI Lab funding specifically to support the generation of polygenic risk scores and their feedback to participating volunteers.
The programme is also on target to raise additional resources of around £160 million from disease-related charities and life sciences companies that conduct health research and make the medicines, treatments, tests and equipment used to treat, detect and diagnose diseases.
It has this week announced £100 million new funding from leading life sciences companies that are investing in and providing their expertise to support the design and delivery of the innovative products that will enable the programme to be successful.
“As well as contributing funding, these industry partners will work collaboratively with Our Future Health, bringing considerable expertise in discovering and developing new methods of prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases and health conditions,” it said in a statement. “By making Our Future Health resources available to all researchers both from academia and industry, the programme aims to help accelerate the discovery and development of innovative diagnostics and treatments.”
Professor Sir John Bell, chair of Our Future Health, said: “Progress in tackling the growing burden of chronic disease depends on strong collaboration across the life sciences sector and health system. We’ve certainly seen how powerful it is during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the rapid development and deployment of vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatments into the NHS at unprecedented speed and scale.
“Our Future Health is designed to harness the power of collaboration. The combination of support from industry and charities that we’re announcing today, alongside our existing funding from the government, means we’re on track to build Our Future Health into a world-leading health research programme. Hopefully it will lay the ground for a bold approach to healthcare in the NHS, focused on early detection and prevention of disease. We look forward to welcoming participants into this exciting programme.”
Despite advances in healthcare and medicine, large numbers of people in the UK still spend many years of their later life in poor health because of common diseases and health conditions.
It added 59% of those aged 65 or older in the UK have two or more of the following conditions or impairments: arthritis, cancer, coronary heart disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disease, sight loss and stroke. This is projected to reach 70% by 2035.
“The above conditions account for just under half (47%, 44% without depression) of the overall disease burden in the UK, rising to over 60% in people aged 75 and older. Over 70% of all deaths in the UK are due to these conditions,” said Our Future Health. “By helping researchers to develop new ways to detect disease at an earlier stage and identify people who are at higher risk of disease, Our Future Health is designed to improve prevention and treatment and ultimately deliver better health outcomes.”
Data on detection and diagnosis of disease in the UK shows that:
- Only 55% of cancers are detected at stage 1 and 2
- 850,000 people are currently living with type 2 diabetes but are yet to be diagnosed
- Around 5.5 million people in England have undiagnosed high blood pressure (hypertension)
Dr Andrew Roddam, CEO of Our Future Health added: “Millions of people in the UK and around the world spend many years of their later life in poor health. Our Future Health aims to tackle this and help people live healthier lives for longer, by creating the UK’s largest ever health research programme to prevent, detect and treat diseases.
“By building a world-leading health research resource that truly reflects the UK population our goal is to develop a more detailed understanding of what makes some people more likely to develop certain health conditions, so more effective tests and treatments can be developed in the future.”