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From bench to bedside – how translational medicine is generating insights from patient data to improve healthcare

"The real power of large data sets only emerges when we find ways to analyse it in a consistent way."



25 September 2012


PA Consulting Group and 4D Biomedical launch annual translational medicine foresighting report

Translational medicine, integrating clinical data and insight into the biomedical development process at an earlier stage, is finally delivering on its promise of facilitating the creation and development of effective medicines that lead to better outcomes for patients, according to a new report launched by PA Consulting Group and 4D Biomedical (4D). The report is based on the views of experts from government, clinical academic and private sector organisations who attended PA and 4D’s annual translational medicine foresighting event.

The benefits of translational medicine have so far been constrained due to limited access to clinical data, the technology to interrogate this data and outdated business models. According to PA’s report, these challenges are now being addressed.

Access to clinical data

According to the PA and 4D report, the creation of the new Clinical Practice Research Datalink and a commitment to ‘making all patient data available’ for approved research, combined with a change in mind-set to a NHS focused on innovation, has cleared the path for technology companies at all levels to unlock the value of health data in the UK.

Realising the value of the NHS is crucial to the success of translational medicine. Attendee of the PA and 4D event, Peter Knight from the Department of Health, explains: “Research which had been undertaken showed that less than 1 per cent of patients would opt out of having their data used where identifiers flow to a safe haven to support life sciences research. Most people are philanthropic: they know their data could help future generations and particularly their own families.”

Enhanced technology

Technological developments to enable the combination of data from multiple sources are critical for successful translational medicine. According to PA’s report, organisations are making real progress on local, regional and national levels.

At a local level, clinical academic organisations such as King’s College London are integrating data from multiple hospitals, allowing clinicians to make better decisions about treatments and patient management.

At a regional level, development initiatives such as Manchester-based North West eHealth (NWeH) are providing secure environments for aggregating, anonymising and analysing health-related data for defined populations. Around Greater Manchester, NWeH provides research and health service development analyses covering around 0.4M of the population now and most of the 3M population by 2015. This ‘trusted third party’ activity over health records is a collaboration between the University of Manchester and the NHS in Salford, enabling more detailed analysis than is possible with remote sources of data. This level of detail has enabled Salford Royal Foundation Trust, Salford Primary Care Trust and its local general practices and pharmacies to provide GSK with first of kind ‘real world’ drug trials in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. NWeH software for supporting clinical studies with coded healthcare records is also being deployed beyond Greater Manchester. The research and engineering lab feeding into NWeH from the University has recently been expanded to cover North England, as the MRC Health eResearch Centre.

At a national level, large-scale data processing is being made more practicable by highly scalable and relatively low-cost cloud computing platforms such as Google BigTable and BigQuery. With cloud, it is possible to analyse year-on-year A&E admissions to a large hospital in as little as twenty seconds. These queries would have previously taken all night. 

New business models

According to attendees at the PA and 4D event, the life science industry is now thinking about integrated health value propositions that demand product, technology and service integration. An example of this is the collaboration between Penn State University and Novartis who united earlier this year to combat cancer through an exclusive, multi-year global research and licensing agreement with the view to expand the number of new cellular immunotherapies for cancer.

Dr Hakim Yadi, life sciences and healthcare expert at PA Consulting Group, says: “The real power of large data sets only emerges when we find ways to analyse it in a consistent way, allowing us to better understand disease progression, the impact of treatment interventions and ultimately the impact on healthcare outcomes.

“This report confirms that we are on track to a future where interpretation could become more, rather than less, complex as more sources of data are combined. While there is still work to be done, we now have examples of translational medicine ‘in-action’ such as Arizona State University and Pfizer’s joint work to predict cardiovascular disease and to assess potential new treatments in people with type 2 diabetes. Translational medicine is delivering on the promise of facilitating a better understanding of disease mechanisms and the creation and development of effective medicines and patient responses to them. This ultimately leads to better outcomes for the right patient at the right time.” 

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