Press release

UK to innovate new life-saving treatment and diagnosis technology

Diseases could be detected even before people experience symptoms, thanks to a pioneering new health-data programme as part of the Industrial Strategy.

  • Businesses and charities back Industrial Strategy challenge to develop life-saving disease detection technology with an expected co-investment of up to £160 million
  • investment will support the recruitment of up to 5 million healthy volunteers to develop new diagnostic tests using AI in the largest ever study of its kind
  • announcement is part of biggest boost to R&D in UK history through the government’s modern Industrial Strategy

Diseases could be detected even before people experience symptoms, thanks to a pioneering new health-data programme as part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy.

Businesses and charities are expected to jointly invest up to £160 million, alongside a £79 million government investment, as part of the Accelerating Detection of Disease programme. The project will support research, early diagnosis, prevention and treatment for diseases including cancer, dementia and heart disease.

The pioneering initiative will recruit up to 5 million healthy people. Volunteered data from the individuals will help UK scientists and researchers invent new ways to detect and prevent the development of diseases.

Prime Minister Theresa May said:

Last year, I set out a mission to use data and AI to transform the diagnosis of chronic diseases and create a future where thousands more survive cancer; where a diagnosis means treatment and survival, rather than having to simply manage the condition.

Today’s announcement is another positive step forward in achieving this, as we work towards identifying more intelligent approaches to preventing disease and transforming the lives of patients and their families.

The programme – Accelerating Detection of Disease – has the potential to transform the way people are treated, supporting the NHS to continue to deliver the highest quality care for UK patients. Not only will this programme save thousands of lives, it has the potential to support developing industry in artificial intelligence, healthcare and diagnostics.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

There is no other programme in the world with the scale and ambition like that of our Accelerating Disease Detection challenge. Backed by government investment, we are aiming to use 5 million volunteers to discover new methods to tackle devastating illnesses before they take effect - and even before symptoms occur.

The business and charity investment expected alongside ours shows our modern Industrial Strategy in action, working alongside industry to ensure the UK remains a world-leader in medical discoveries that will save lives and benefit our economy.

Today’s business investment is an important step in delivering the AI and Data Grand Challenge mission to use data, artificial intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030. The programme is led by Professor Sir John Bell and brings together the NHS, industry and leading charities including Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Leader of the programme Prof. John Bell said:

The Accelerating Detection of Disease programme will put the UK at the forefront of global research into early diagnosis and help us shift the standard in healthcare forever. We have a vision to live in a world where you prevent disease rather than treat it too late. The ability to identify people at risk or suffering from early forms of disease with greater precision will have a profound impact on how we develop diagnostics and new ways to treat disease. I am delighted that this challenge will bring together the NHS, charities and industry to develop a truly world leading resource.

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

Alzheimer’s Research UK is delighted to play a part in this landmark cohort and harness this incredible resource to make breakthroughs possible for people with dementia.

Today, we diagnose dementia causing diseases after symptoms show, but to ensure people get the greatest benefit from future treatments, we must be able to diagnose them as soon as possible.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is working to revolutionise how diseases like Alzheimer’s are identified and uniting the best minds in digital data and technology to draw on the full potential of the Accelerating Detection of Disease cohort.

UKRI Challenge Director Fiona Watt said:

This is a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to support the NHS by participating in health research. The programme will lead to new ways to prevent diseases or detect them at an early stage when they can be treated more effectively.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

The British Heart Foundation is pleased to see the government confirm its commitment to the Accelerating Detection of Disease Challenge. This initiative could not only lead to exciting developments in detecting diseases at earlier stages, when they may be more amenable treatment and cure, but also better ways of preventing them. For heart and circulatory disease such as coronary artery disease, heart failure and vascular dementia the advances from this project could be game-changing and the BHF are delighted to be supporting and be part of this major initiative. Public endorsement, engagement and involvement with this project will be crucial and we also hope to support this aspect.

Sara Hiom, Director, Early Diagnosis and Health Professional Engagement at Cancer Research UK, said:

Cancer Research UK sees great potential in the Accelerating Detection of Disease programme, not only as a platform for research to further our understanding of the prevention and earlier detection of major diseases such as cancer, but as a way to engage the public more fully in their own health, increase their awareness of risk factors for disease and support our great health service.

The programme was a key commitment in the second Life Sciences Sector Deal and its use of genomics will change the future of health and medicine in a new era of precision healthcare. Putting genomics at the heart of this globally-leading initiative, delivers the government’s commitment to develop a genomic volunteers programme and contributes to our UK-wide ambition to sequence five million genomes by 2023 to 2024, maintaining our global lead in this field.

Published 23 July 2019