By Rohan Bundell, Public Affairs Officer, AMRC
Published: 9 October 2017

AMRC’s party conference season activity came to an end last week with two successful roundtable meetings under our belts. We co-hosted roundtables at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences alongside our industry partners the BIA, ABPI and BIVDA.

This year the topic up for discussion was Harnessing data and digital tools for better healthcare and world-leading R&D. The discussions were both lively and timely, given the publication of the life sciences industrial strategy a few weeks ago. They brought together parliamentarians, medical research charities, and industry representatives to discuss how to realise the unique potential of the data the UK holds.

A few key themes cropped up in both discussions that demonstrate the opportunities within this issue:

  • The unique potential of the NHS, with its cradle-to-grave stock of data, to improve the efficiency and quality of patient care
  • The need to embed digital skills into education and the jobs created from this
  • The research potential of combining multi-condition datasets
  • The ease of real-time health monitoring
  • The revolutionary potential to bring a fairer society.

Discussion also surrounded some of the hurdles to be overcome:

  • The need for public confidence in data-sharing
  • The importance of local conversations in establishing confidence
  • The value in a cross-sectoral approach to this effort
  • A focus on informing Parliament, as well as the public, of opportunities to be realised.

The Labour roundtable

We heard from BIA member Tom Weaver, President of Congenica, who spoke of a vision for full population genome sequencing and the huge impact this would have on our understanding of health. Chi Onwurah MP, chimed with this, speaking about the potential for a personalised and empowered state.

Simon Gillespie, CEO of the British Heart Foundation, talked about research the charity is funding, which identifies variations in patient care and looks at the interplay between multiple conditions. This was welcomed by attendees, including Thangham Debbonaire MP and Alex Mayer MEP.

The Conservative roundtable

Susan Collier, of ABPI member GSK, spoke about the pioneering Salford Lung Study, which utilised the region’s unique e-record system to test the safety and effectiveness of a new treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A debate followed on engaging the public and gaining consent and trust in the sharing of data in which Lord Willetts and Kit Malthouse MP, who chairs the Life Sciences APPG, both commented.

Neil Ward, of BIVDA member Illumina, was next up, explaining the dramatic advances in sequencing technologies and how these can be applied clinically to bring about improvements in diagnostic accuracy, speed, and costs. Kit Malthouse MP welcomed the developments but noted the potential scale of cultural change these technologies engender.

We would like to thank all the individuals and organisations in attendance this year, as well as our colleagues who’ve helped organise these roundtables; our joint efforts in promoting this cause over the coming months will be invaluable.